This post is part of an ongoing series exploring 100 small business strategy questions.
Businesses used to be hard to start. But now, thanks to the web, they are insanely easy to start. This leveling of the field was good in some ways but also bad in some ways, too. The web made it easy for everyone to start a business… which means that just about everyone has started a business! It’s very competitive out there now, as aspiring entrepreneurs pile onto the web to make money.
All of this competition means that customers have choice — an overwhelming number of competitors to choose from. So this leads us to our small business strategy question: Why would someone want to buy from you instead of your competition?
Think about who your competition is. Not just other businesses in your industry but the very businesses that serve the exact same target market as you. What makes you different? What makes you special?
Many businesses default to a general unique selling proposition (USP) like “we give great customer service” or “we deliver excellence products”. But every other competitor serving the same target market likely says the same thing. (Yes, I’m sure it’s only true for you and not for them… but the customer hears it from everyone).
So imagine this: Your customer has invited you to sit down at a table and spend 30 seconds (yes, just 30 seconds!) explaining why they should buy from you. They have also asked each of your competitors to do the same. The customer asks this specific question: What is the one thing you do that no one else at the table can do?
What do you say in that short amount of time to capture your prospective customer’s attention and convince them to buy from you? In this scenario, saying “we give great service” won’t work because everyone else is saying the same thing. “Our products are second to none” is also off the list because most of your competitors are saying the same thing.
This exercise might seem silly because we can’t imagine a situation where our customers would have us and our competitors in a room and give us only 30 seconds to state our case… but that is exactly what the marketplace is like.
When a potential customer wants to buy something and they quickly check out you and your competitors, they’re looking for the unique points to help them decide who to buy from. If everyone is the same, the customer concludes that it doesn’t matter who they buy from; there’s no loyalty and the purchase becomes only measured on price.
But if you can answer the question “Why would someone want to buy from you instead of your competition?” then you change the conversation. You give the potential buyer a reason to buy from you and not from anyone else; you make the customer more loyal because you are the only one who does whatever it is you promise; and you can charge more money because the conversation is no longer about you-versus-your-competitors.