Q: If two companies are selling similar products, how can you differentiate yourself so customers buy from you and not your competitor?
A: Truth be told, I do think that if you’re starting a business that’s just selling the same thing as everybody else, then your business really has no reason to exist. Creating an original concept with stunning, differentiated product development and innovation is the key to success. So, I’d say it is very important to offer at least some products as part of your mix that customers can’t get anywhere else.
That being said, I also know that as a small business just starting out, it’s basically impossible to compete with mass merchants on volume. But what you CAN compete with them on is relationships. Relationships with your vendors, employees and customers.
Related: Why Competition Is Good
Here is how:
Change your views.
Andrew Carnegie was once quoted as saying, “Fill the other guy’s basket to the brim. Making money then becomes an easy proposition.” It means that unlike what you may have been brought up to believe, business doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. No one has to lose for someone else to win. Instead, consider crafting mutually-beneficial relationships with your vendors to help them produce and provide the kind of useful, fun, well-designed, high-quality products that will delight your customers.
How do you do this? To be honest, these relationships develop over time, but in the beginning, you should spend a lot of time getting to know your vendors, learning about their business and the issues they face. You should then be constantly searching for ways to help them, make them happier, more productive and more profitable. And in turn, let them get to know you and your business and what you stand for.
When you create relationships like this, I bet you’ll be surprised how many of your vendors are not only willing, but happy to offer you exclusive, custom-made products, fast delivery, high quality and great pricing. You can’t beat the mass merchants on a lot of things, but you can sure beat them on relationships.
Train your employees to sell solutions -- not just products.
I’ve seen too many examples of companies where training is viewed as a burden or an afterthought. But extensive training for new employees on every aspect of the products you sell allows them to truly serve as the experts and provide a valuable service to your customers. It’s called “solutions-based selling” instead of “items-based selling.”
When a customer comes to you asking about a product, an employee should start asking questions to truly establish her needs -- maybe even uncovering needs she didn’t know she had in the first place! Then, the employee can suggest the best possible solution for the customer -- whether that’s the product she originally came to you for or not. That’s truly great customer service and one of the biggest differentiators out there.
Create a space where customers WANT to shop.
Never underestimate the importance of creating an environment where people WANT to shop. And this applies whether your business is brick and mortar or online. I call it having that “air of excitement,” something you can feel in employees’ smiling faces and genuine interest in a customer’s needs or in the bright visual displays of elegant, clever, useful products. Customers can sense when employees are having fun and enjoying their jobs -- and this attitude is contagious, which hopefully causes customers to spend much more time shopping. That’s something that differentiates you no matter what you’re selling.
Related: Competition Is for Sissies