Price and service: The two worst things to compete on

As a seller of things, I’ve tried to compete on price or service in the past. (“We’ve got the lowest prices” or “We’ve got the best customer service”). As a buyer, I’ve had other companies try to sell me on price or service.

It doesn’t work.

STOP TRYING TO COMPETE ON PRICE AND SERVICE

Competing on price is a dangerous game because your margins are so low that you aren’t very profitable, you can’t invest in in marketing and growth, and you attract the least loyal customers who only care about price and will leave you in a heartbeat as soon as someone else offers a lower price.

Competing on service (I mean: customer care, not the services you might sell) is just as bad but for different reasons: It’s so easy to SAY that you offer better service than your competition. However, everyone is saying it so it lacks meaning, especially since most companies that claim to offer “better” service are actually offering the exact same quality of service that everyone else is offering (even if they think they’re offering something better). And to make matters worse, customer expect flawless service from all vendors all the time as the default requirement of doing business with them. You can say you offer better service but you only truly do when you have metrics that prove it and when you make your service so ridiculously awesome that people are left weeping at how wonderful you are.

In both cases, you might be able to compete on price and service for the short term but someone will come along and out-do you.

SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO INSTEAD?

There needs to be something else. It needs to be a competitive factor that only you can do. It needs to have a moat around it.

I like the “cluster approach” to competing: That is where you compete on a cluster of things rather than on price and/or service. You should cluster some of the following things together:

  • A target market that is more narrowly defined than your competition. For example: If you can’t sell to all the business owners in your city, why not sell to those who have started a business 5 to 10 years ago, make $100K to $320K, and are looking to expand. See how that’s different? You’re narrowing the market and that allows you to compete on expertise. (Hey, if you want to read more about this, why not check out my blog post 55 questions to answer when defining your sales funnel’s target market).
  • A great offer. Yes, your competition will probably tell you that their offer is just as great. However, the value of your offer is far more measurable (and there are far greater opportunities to innovate) than when you try to compete on service. That measurability can give you an edge if, indeed, your product is better. And the more unique your offer seems, the better.
  • Compete on the relationship (but there’s a catch). This is probably the closest thing to customer service, although there is a difference in my mind. Customer service has more to do with how you handle a customer before, during, and after the sale. A relationship is far more intimate. Your customer truly feels that you have their best interests in mind and they’ll invite you to their kid’s baseball games. (For more about this, check out my blog post Customer service and customer relationships are similar but different. Customer relationships are better). Okay, I said there was a catch and this is it: You SHOULD NOT promote yourself as offering better customer service or customer relationships. This is one of those “show don’t tell” situations. Since every business SAYS they offer great service, you can compete and succeed by being the one company that truly connects in a meaningful way to your customers.
  • A shocking guarantee. Lots of companies offer guarantees. But most of them are lame. 100%, no questions asked. Whatever. Give your guarantee some teeth. Make it a no-brainer for someone to do business with you.
  • Measurable marketing. This one might surprise most readers because we tend to think of competitiveness as being a “customer facing” aspect to our business. But you can become far more competitive by turning on the metrics and making every marketing effort more effective. It feels arduous to do, and some marketing efforts aren’t as easily measured but there’s an added bonus: You’ll sell more and save money.

Are there other things you can compete on? Of course there are. I’m only getting warmed up here. But if you start with these five, you’ll see

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