What's Your Tiebreaker?
Creating a Clear Reason to Choose You Instead of Your Competition
By Joe Calloway
Right now there are potential customers for your business trying to decide
whether or not to choose you. Unfortunately, most of them can't see much
difference between you and your competition. Youíve all got good quality
products or services. You all seem to have competent, helpful people. It all
pretty much just looks the same. That leaves one factor to drive the
Welcome to the commodity trap. It's a place in which lowest price almost
always wins because customers don't see any other difference. It's not a
place where most companies want to compete. To escape the commodity trap,
you have to answer the toughest question in business:
Why should I choose you?
From banking services and insurance products to fast food restaurants and
medical clinics, today's buyers just don't see much difference in their
choices. Unless you want to compete on price, you have to clearly
differentiate from your competition. You have to have a tiebreaker. You have
to give potential customers a reason to say, "Ok, that's the difference.
That makes my decision." The good news is that you probably have one or more
tiebreakers right now, you just haven't developed them as such.
Tiebreakers usually aren't anything particularly unusual or exotic, but more
often the mastery of a basic customer's expectation. The best way to
discover and develop your tiebreakers is to list your customers' basic
expectations of you. Start by choosing one basic customer expectation and
stake your claim with it. Improve your performance in that area until it
becomes "your turf," and clearly differentiates you from your competition.
Reach the point where you have mastered the differentiator and can
confidently say, "Nobody does this like we do."
While basic expectations will vary depending on the nature of your
customers, i.e. consumer retail or business to business, here are some
typical areas that can prove to be powerful tiebreakers to differentiate you
from the competition:
∑ Be the fastest: Quick response and always on time. Become known for
returning customer's calls within one hour, guaranteeing two-day delivery
but always doing it in one, paying your customer if you are late for a
service call, or responding to emails with lightning speed. In today's "I
want it yesterday" world, being known for quick response or always being on
time can be a powerful differentiator.
∑ Be the easiest to do business with: Become the "no hassle" choice.
This has been listed as the number one factor with business-to-business
customers, and it has equal importance with retail consumers. Look at every
aspect of how you interface with customers and correct anything that might
make you the least bit difficult to do business with. Are your invoices
clear and easily understood? Is your Web site easy to navigate? Do you
empower employees to say "yes" to customers without always having to get
approval from a manager? Be easy to deal with and win more business.
∑ Let the customer choose: Offer more selection and customization.
Today's customers want exactly what they want, exactly how they want it.
Whether it's the music mix on their iPod or their "no fat, no whip, double
shot, extra hot" latte with a shot of vanilla at the coffee shop, everyone
wants it their way. Let the customers decide. Give them what they want, not
what you want to give them.
∑ Demonstrate value: Competitive price and clear value. You don't
have to have the lowest price, but you do have to demonstrate that you're a
great deal. That's the essence of value. Never take for granted that your
customers understand that you're worth what you charge. Spell it out for
them. Educate your customers. It's not their job to see your value, it's
your job to show them. All it may take is a realization of "Oh, I didnít
understand before how that was saving me money" for you to lock in customer
Value can also be as simple as sending seven when the customer orders six.
∑ Be relevant: Take a "big picture" approach to serving your
customer. Look beyond the immediate needs of your customers to a bigger
picture view of how you can help them succeed, make their lives easier, or
create new opportunities for them. One company that sells pipe to building
contractors invites its best customers to annual seminars on business
development. An auto paint manufacturer offers its body shop customers help
with programs on inventory control, accounts receivable and other business
basics. A restaurant offers free baby food to customers with infants, making
life easier for the family. Look beyond your core product or service and
explore how a "big picture" approach can be your ultimate tiebreaker.
∑ Solve problems on the spot: Empower employees to make it happen.
Nothing is more frustrating to customers than hearing the words, "I'll have
to ask my manager" or "I'm sorry, but our policy is ..." Train your
employees to resolve customer problems fairly, amicably, and, whenever
possible, on the spot. Effective problem resolution can win you customers
∑ The ultimate tiebreaker: Consistency of performance. While it's
great to hear "superstar" stories about employees that go above and beyond
for customers, the most powerful tiebreaker in today's marketplace is
consistency. If customers know that no matter who they deal with in your
company, they will receive the same level of great service every single
time, that's the most powerful differentiator there is.
Think about your own customers' basic expectations, then set a goal to
improve your performance on one of them by 25 percent. Start there, then
continue to get better. The more expectations you master, the better your
chances to win the business when your potential customers ask, "Why should I
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joe Calloway is a partner in Engage Consulting Group, and author of several
best-selling business books including the newly revised edition of "Becoming
a Category of One," (August 2009, Wiley). Corporate heavyweights BMW,
American Express, IBM and many more have sought his insight into today's
marketplace. Joe provides consulting to help companies accelerate their
strategies and make their visions reality. To purchase his books or hire him
as a consultant, visit
www.joecalloway.com or call (615) 383-2249.