Whether you’re a startup founder, a young CEO breaking into a saturated market, or an industry veteran looking for a slight edge over the competition, your success depends on your ability to focus — both on your customers and on yourself.
Not every business has to reinvent the wheel to be successful. It’s OK to enter an already competitive market or remain in one if competition arrives — and it will arrive. Even if you do manage to find or create a new market for a product, you won’t be the only fish in the pond for long.
But zeroing in on the right focus will keep you competitive. Here are a few places to start:
1. Spruce up your service.
Superior customer service can make up for a multitude of sins on the product side. Even if your product or service has fewer bells and whistles or a higher price tag, a consistently great experience will turn prospects into customers and customers into evangelists.
Of course, you can’t please everyone, and you shouldn’t try to. Instead, consider your core competency, and remain focused on those customers that place a high value on your ability to offer that one thing. Serve them better than anyone else.
If you want to know where you stand, test your competitors’ customer service. Try their phone lines, and see how long customers are kept waiting. Don’t just aim for “better than the competition.” Aim higher. If their wait time is 10 minutes, don’t make nine minutes your benchmark — target two minutes. And when you get there, let the world know.
Next, throw away the scripts and the canned messaging and teach your customer service reps to speak like real people. Nothing will make your customers angrier than hearing “Your call is important to us” 20 times while on hold. When you get rid of tired scripts, everyone wins.
Empower your customer service team to make front-line decisions that are best for the customer. Obviously, there are always issues that have to be escalated to higher levels of support, but give your reps the training and the power to fix issues on the spot, and your customers will sing their praises.
2. Grow with the flow.
Seek to achieve growth by first making incremental improvements to your core product or service before trying to offer entirely new features. And let your customers dictate your growth. Feedback is a gift, so take it!
Especially if you’re leading a technology company, you’ll always feel the pressure to innovate. Potential investors will want to see that you can bring the future to life, and venture-backed companies will even place product development over financial performance at times. But prudent leaders know that their customers, not investors, typically hold the key to lasting growth. It’s not a coincidence that the best leaders know how to listen.
3. Maximize your messaging.
No matter who you are, if you want people to pay attention to you, you have to make them pay attention.
There is no one-size-fits-all marketing technique. You may have to market yourself differently from the competition, relying on different channels based on your budgetary and time constraints. But you have to market yourself.
Your messaging must be clear, consistent and unique. If you can check those three boxes, you’re going to reach some people. Not everyone: some people.
You can achieve clarity in your advertising and sales by focusing on your core competency. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing website copy, creating a pitch deck, or making a sales call, and it doesn’t matter if other businesses can do the exact same thing. Your job is to be clear.
Secondly, you want to be consistent. Sending different messages over different channels will only confuse people, which will end in lost customers. Instead, unify your messaging across all customer touchpoints. The more potential customers hear the same message, the stickier it becomes. If it’s a simple and compelling message, they might even start to repeat it to others.
Finally, you want to center your message on your Unique Selling Proposition. What makes your offering different? What do you do better than anyone?
Back when Avis was competing with Hertz for a share of the car rental market, both companies sold the exact same product; Hertz was just a lot bigger. Avis found its USP in its underdog status, and the simple tagline “We try harder” was born.
The modern consumer is bombarded by marketing messages 24/7, so taglines probably aren’t as effective as they used to be. But clear, consistent messaging that highlights your USP will always be effective.
There are lots of things you can’t control, but how you treat your customers — and how you talk about yourself — don’t fall into that category. If you place an intense focus on getting those things right, you’ll already be different than most of your competition. Do them well for long enough, and you’ll eventually find yourself in a league of your own.