I was reading Alan Weiss’ book Million Dollar Consulting. It’s a pretty good book (although I like his Ultimate Consultant Series better). In the Million Dollar Consultant he mentioned something that I thought was a valuable way to look at gaining a competitive advantage:
Weiss suggested that there were 3 “levels” of value on which you compete: At the competitive level, in which your offerings are similar to your competitors; at the unique level, in which your offerings are – obviously! – the only ones on the market; and at the breakthrough level, in which your offerings are so insanely valuable and insightful that the others aren’t even in the same league.
That makes sense and I think most entrepreneurs would agree that these are the three levels of value a business’ offerings should have if the business is going to survive.
But here is where Weiss takes a surprising turn: He says that your products should be competitive, your services should be unique, and your relationship with your customer should be at the breakthrough level.
Weiss suggests that it is expensive to implement breakthrough characteristics across all three offerings (products, services, and relationships), and that products and even services can easily be copied by competitors. So instead, he says, your products should only be at the level equivalent to compete with your competitors… the real difference is in the relationship, which should be astonishingly value-added.
I’ve spent some time thinking about Weiss’ ideas and am building on them with my own ideas below:
HERE’S WHY THIS IS GOOD NEWS FOR EVERY BUSINESS
- Existing businesses spend a lot of money on product innovation while their relationship-building remains lackluster at best. Investing even half of the money spent on adding innovating product value into adding relationship value can have a huge impact on customer retention and word of mouth.
- Some businesses – especially smaller home-based businesses (Tupperware, Norwex, Avon) and businesses where there is no product differentiation (real estate, investment firms, accounting firms, dentists, freelancers) – simply CAN’T innovate their products or services. So relationship value is going to be the key differentiator.
- It costs money to innovate products (and often services). It doesn’t cost as much money to innovate relationships. Rather, it costs time.
- Start-ups that have a simple product and not a lot of money can still compete in the big leagues with unparalleled relationship building.
HERE’S WHY BUSINESSES WON’T FOLLOW THIS MODEL
- Product innovation is sexy and gets way more funding in budgets than relationship-building
- Linking sales to products is much easier than linking sales to relationships – and when you innovate your product and see sales go up, it’s easier to make the connection between product innovation and sales.
WHAT CAN YOUR BUSINESS DO TO ACHIEVE BREAKTHROUGH RELATIONSHIP BUILDING VALUE?
- Start by analyzing your sales funnel to understand how you market, sell, and build relationships. Understand how specific activities in your sales funnel move contacts forward.
- Implement a CRM system. In other words, stop leaving customer names on sticky notes on your office wall. Tie your CRM system to your sales funnel.
- Keep diligent notes on your clients.
- Market your ass off to load up your list of prospects and build relationships with those contacts. Sales will happen if you do that.
- During a sale, keep your customer informed at every step. Don’t ever let them wonder about what the next step is or whether you’ve forgotten about them. (Note to self: I’m definitely guilty of this).
- Find out what your competitors are doing and go an extra mile. No, wait. Go an extra ten miles. Call your customers more (without bugging them). Email them. Follow them on various social media. Participate in their conversations.
- After the sale, remember that you have a relationship with them. Don’t ignore them. Don’t treat them like a prospect. Build an entire system around the post-sale customer. Send them valuable things (not just coupons for another product, but information that you think they’ll find valuable). Take a personal interest in them. Figure out what they need in their business and connect them with people and information that can help them… even if it means no additional revenue for you.