In their book Write Your Business Plan, the staff of Entrepreneur Media offer an in-depth understanding of what’s essential to any business plan, what’s appropriate for your venture, and what it takes to ensure success. In this edited excerpt, the authors offer a look at 15 factors you can use to make your product or service stand out from the pack.
In your plan, it’s important to be able to build a convincing case for the product or service upon which your business will be built. The product description section is where you do that. In this section, you'll describe your product in terms of several characteristics, including cost, features, distribution, target market, competition and production concerns.
A product description is more than a mere listing of product features, however. You have to highlight your product’s most compelling characteristics, such as low cost or uniquely high quality, that will make it stand out in the marketplace and attract buyers willing to pay your price. Even the simplest product has a number of unique potential selling strengths.
Many of the common unique selling strengths are seemingly contradictory. How can both mass popularity and exclusive distribution be strengths? The explanation is that it depends on your market and what its buyers want.
Here are the things you'll want to consider when creating the product section of your business plan that will help grab your readers' attention:
Features. If your product is faster, bigger or smaller, or comes in more colors, sizes and configurations than others on the market, you have a powerful selling strength. In fact, if you can’t offer some combination of features that sets you apart, you’ll have difficulty writing a convincing plan.
Price. Everybody wants to pay less for a product. If you can position yourself as the low-cost provider (and make money at these rock-bottom prices), you have a powerful selling advantage. Conversely, high-priced products may appeal to many markets for their better-quality, high-end value. People with discerning tastes want quality and don't buy based solely on price points, so saving money isn't always the issue. Price is also dependent on other issues such as service. People will pay more for good customer service.
Time savings. People buy products to help them expedite a process. If yours is faster and can help them get out of the office and on their way home more quickly, they want it. Today, everyone is looking to save time, so products and services that help people do that are valuable.
Ease of transport. The mobile world has taken over. People are using their mobile phones to go online as much if not more than their laptops. How mobile is your product? Today’s consumers like to take things with them—they want apps and gadgets that are portable.
Availability. Typically, the more easily accessible your products are, the better it is for business. In most cases, you want to have products and services that people can get quickly. Today, thanks to the Internet, you no longer need brick-and-mortar locations in many communities. Scarcity, however, can also generate a higher demand, so you may have a marketing plan to release products at intervals and let the demand—and the desire—build. Scarcity doesn’t mean that you'll be running out anytime soon. For service providers, availability means a good location or locations that are easy to get to.
Cutting edge/new. If you have something to offer that's not on the market, this is a major selling point or competitive edge. Get out there and patent it, market it and sell it before someone comes along and steals your thunder. You can also utilize technology to build upon products or services you already provide, such as an app.
Training and support. These are components of service that have become increasingly important, particularly for high-technology products. For many sophisticated software products and electronic devices, a seller who can’t provide tech support to buyers will have no chance of success.
Financing. Whether you “tote the note” and guarantee credit to anyone, offer innovative leasing, do buybacks or have other financing alternatives, you’ll find that giving people different, more convenient ways to pay can lend your product a convincing strength.
Customer service. Excellent service is perhaps the most important thing you can add to any product or service today. In a world where word travels fast through social media, you want to provide top-notch customer service. The shoe giant Zappos has built its reputation by providing excellent customer service. Make this a top priority.
Reputation. Why do people pay $10,000 for a Rolex? The Rolex reputation is the reason. At its most extreme, reputation can literally keep you in business, as is the case with many companies, such as IBM and WalMart, whose well-developed reputations have tided them over in hard times.
Knowledge. Your knowledge and the means you have of imparting that to customers is an important part of your total offering. Retailers of auto parts, home improvement supplies and all sorts of other goods have found that simply having knowledgeable salespeople who know how to replace the water pump in a ’95 Chevy will lure customers in and encourage them to buy.
Experience. “We’ve been there. We’ve done thousands of installations like yours, and there’s no doubt we can make this one work as well.” Nothing could be more soothing to a skeptical sales prospect than to learn that the seller has vast experience at what he’s doing. If you have ample experience, make it part of your selling proposition.
Fast delivery. Nobody wants to wait for anything anymore. If you can offer overnight shipping, on-site service or 24/7 availability, it can turn an otherwise unremarkable product or service into a very attractive one.
Endorsements. There’s a reason Peyton Manning makes millions of dollars a year from endorsements. People want to relate to Peyton and share his aura, if only obliquely.
Other factors. There are many wild cards unique to particular products, or perhaps simply little used in particular industries, with which you can make your product stand out. For instance, consider a service agreement guarantee. When consumers know they can get a product repaired under a service guarantee or return a faulty product for a refund, they’re often more likely to buy it over otherwise superior competitors offering less powerful warranties.