You see your feature set as the most robust on the market, your security protocol is virtually hack-proof and your interface is second to none. You can spout the advantages of your solution while you sleep, so why aren’t you getting 100% of the opportunities and closing each and every one of them?
Now more than ever, it’s not enough to build the perfect product.
That’s not to say that specs aren’t important – they are. But in an increasingly competitive marketplace where global players can reach into your backyard, differentiation is the key to survival. To stay standing, you have to stand apart from the crowd.
Remove the internal blinders
It’s not uncommon for tech companies to wear what I call “internal blinders” when it comes to their offerings. When you are so close to something, it can be difficult to have unbiased, objective perspective about your solution and the competition.
Over the years, I’ve heard dozens of CEOs, CTOs, CIOs and sales executives say no one does what their software, SaaS or PaaS does. And while this may be true in some cases, the real question is whether the market perceives it that way. While it takes domain expertise to truly understand what you are doing different, better and worse than the competition – it takes a customer-centric and market view to see how that difference is perceived by prospects and search engines. It’s good practice to conduct a comprehensive review of your competitors at least twice a year. Find their leadership team on LinkedIn. Read their white papers. Watch a product webinar over lunch. Do whatever it takes to put yourself in the buyer’s seat.
Ask the tough questions
Once you’ve done the research, ask yourself, “How do we measure up to our competitors?” Make a list of what they offer – and how they’re positioning themselves. What’s appealing about their offerings and where do they fall short compared with your own? At least once per year, do a mini SWOT analysis and diagram out your product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for improvement and threats. Your competition is constantly working to improve their product and leapfrog you. I recommend a diagram because it provides a visual of your current state of affairs and has the impact that writing sometimes doesn’t.
Follow up on your competitive reviews and SWOT analysis by talking to your clients, your prospects and your target audiences. Send out a survey or put together a focus group. (A growing number of online focus group consulting teams make this a convenient option.) Get the insights you need to illuminate what sets you apart and where there are gaps to be filled. Use the information you gain to button up your products to align with market needs.
Take a look in the mirror
By now, you have realized that when Product A and Product B are nearly identical, customers are relying on something else to aid in the decision-making process. That’s where branding comes in. Customers aren’t just making a transaction; they’re looking for a service, platform or product that solves their problems and fulfills their needs. In addition to your product, they’re considering your reputation, your technical support, your thought leadership and how your brand makes them feel. Once you have a rock-solid product, refresh your messaging to ensure your brand is consistently reflected in your pitch materials, on the web and at tradeshows.
Make your case
A quality offering and persuasive branding can help bring customers into your camp, but what keeps them there? Proof.
Do you have a 90% customer satisfaction rate? Do three-quarters of your customers use your service more than once? Have 7 of 10 big players in the industry abandoned last year’s “gold standard” in favor of your product?
Data like these are becoming easier to obtain, but it’s important to process the raw numbers to humanize your story.
Infographics are a good, attention-grabbing way to transform big data into digestible takeaways. Another strategy is to pair quantitative data with qualitative statements. It’s one thing for your CMO to say, “Our customers love our products” or “Our innovative services synergize our clients’ businesses, enabling them to leverage their core competencies to drive bottom-line growth.”
It’s far more powerful to hear a client say, “Company X helped us work through our process challenges and implement a better system so that our team can spend their time on value-added tasks. Since then, we’ve experienced our best quarter on the books.”
Your customers have improved productivity, accuracy, quality, what-have-you, thanks to your products and services. Let these proof points be the plot points of your corporate narrative, and whenever possible, let your customers tell that story for you through testimonials and case studies.
In the eyes of your prospects – and, [ahem], Google – there’s a whole world of competitors out there. As your consumers and prospects become more educated about technology, demand for the latest and greatest will increase and product life cycles will shorten.
Yes, you’ll need to keep innovating. So will everyone else. What must remain the same over time – yet wholly different from your competitors – is what sets you apart and the unique value your offering delivers to your customers.