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Beating incumbents is about more than relationships

Have you ever talked to a prospective customer or looked at an RFP and felt they had a particular solution in mind? No, you are not paranoid. But, yes, you are late to the party. And I hate to tell you this, but you’ve probably already lost. Your energy would be better suited to making and closing new opportunities.

In these situations, it’s easy to chalk that up to a competitor with a larger sales force or deeply entrenched relationships, which are both valid. But let’s go a little deeper. It’s not just the relationships that beat you at the game.

Winning business occurs on one of two tracks. First the long-standing relationship track. That’s usually why incumbents win. They have been around a long time, and even if their solution is not perfect, they typically get top ranking when it’s time to make comparisons. The second track is differentiation.

On the surface, differentiation helps you win business because it sets you apart from the pack. That’s great for the members of your audience who are ready to buy today. But did you know that a tiny percentage—10% or less have defined a pain and are actively looking for a solution?

So, what about the other 90%? It’s not that they don’t have a problem; they likely don’t know there is a solution or are just living with the pain.

That is why it’s not just about relationships. This is where things get fun! When you are clear about what makes you special at solving a problem, you can define a need when the client isn’t looking to buy and put yourself in that top position when they do become ready.

For example, I just bought a $1,200 automation tool for my business from a company I had never heard of for a problem I didn’t know could be solved so easily. When the rep showed me how they could give me my most precious resource (time!) back, I was all in. The company had taken the time to truly understand a pain point (or one on the horizon) and, more importantly, all the reasons why I had not taken action to solve it.

So, how do you do it if you’re the small guy or the new kid on the block? Become a category maker by demonstrating your unique qualities. Uber, of course, is an easy example of a brand that created a new category, but it doesn’t have to be anything quite so dramatic.

You can instead do something small but radically different in your category.

To do this, you must know four things: what your customer looks like today, what they look like after they have been transformed by your service, the unique way that only you facilitate that transition, AND where you can insert a kickass experience into the customer journey.

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, get on the phone! Call a handful of your current and previous customers and seek out your competitors’ unhappy customers. Ask them about their experiences. Listen to the language they use. Find the moment that triggered the feeling of pain that caused them to move from “not looking” to searching for a solution. Ask where the solution fell short and where it wowed. This language is gold and will force you to think beyond “fast, friendly service” or “innovator in cloud-based solutions.” I’m sure you are those things, but that could also describe every company in your category.

I love the example Jay Baer gives of an oral surgeon in New Jersey. (Jay Baer | The Biz That Doubled in Size with No Ads | Unstoppable CEO) This surgeon is in a saturated market and in an industry that doesn’t exactly have people rushing to get in the door. I mean, who likes going to the dentist? Especially for surgery?

As Baer tells it, by his own admission, the surgeon is not the best out of the hundreds in the area, but he is the highest rated among them. It’s because he does something very different. He is thinking about the customer’s anxiety before their appointment, so he calls them a week before to check in and see if they have questions. Through those calls, the surgeon defined his office as a place of care and respect for the customer experience. Very few surgeons do this, and it gets people talking.

When you find those extraordinary things only you can provide, it is the ultimate expression of your brand, and you create an experience that stands tall in a crowded space. That's what I want for you.


Maybe you've thought, "what does this girl do?"

Remember all those things I just talked about? Finding your special thing, communicating in a nonboring way, and bringing your brand to its fullest expression? Yes! I help you with that, so you win more business!

I also drink too much coffee… but that’s a conversation for another day…


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