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Deliver on Price, Quality and Speed Successful businesses deliver on all 3 fronts to win and keep customers.

Remember the days when places like printing companies and auto body shops posted cartoons that showed an employee laughing hysterically, accompanied by a line like, "You want it when?" Or how about a placard like this? "Price. Quality. Speed. Choose any two."

In the mindset of days past, customers had to expect steep prices to get top quality at breakneck speed. For top quality at low prices, they expected long waits. And if they wanted delivery fast and cheap, they expected to compromise quality.

That was then. Today, customers have different expectations. They want and are used to receiving price, quality and speed. As a result, successful businesses deliver on all three fronts to win and keep customers. Here are some tips to help you achieve the same result.

Be Good at Everything and Great at Something
Customers expect your business to offer quality at good prices with prompt service, but they don't expect you to be the market leader on all three fronts.

Action: Rate how well your business competes on price, quality and speed. Be sure your performance is decidedly better than your competitors in one of the three areas, and strong enough to be competitive in the other two.

Examples: JetBlue and Southwest are known for having the lowest airfares, yet also for customer comfort and convenience. Nordstrom is famous for quality goods and service, and also for seasonal sales and price-matching policies. Domino's promises speedy pizza deliveries, along with low pricing, high quality and award-winning customer satisfaction.

Strengthen Your Strongest Suit
Customers decide where to go for services, products, meals, or whatever else they're ready to buy based on how well they believe businesses will address their wants and needs. If they aren't sure what your business does well, they'll opt for a competitor they trust to give them what they want.

Action: Determine, improve and promote your strongest competitive advantage.

  • If you have the best prices, protect your position by watching your costs like a hawk and promoting your prices like crazy in order to build the sales volume necessary to offset the lower margins that price leaders generate.

    Examples: Expedia promises the best price, or a refund of the difference, plus a travel coupon, if a customer finds a better deal online within 24 hours. Hotels.com ties its price-match offer to the hotel's cancelation deadline.
  • If you get the job done fastest and most reliably, protect your position by constantly streamlining, enhancing and promoting your efficiencies.

    Examples: Hawaiian Airlines advertises its best on-time performance record. Restaurants commit to deliver "breakfast within five minutes or it's free." And web-based businesses use delivery guarantees to establish credibility and prompt purchases.
  • If you're known for superior quality--of products, service, expertise, convenience, business setting, or overall reputation--you'll maintain your edge only by constantly getting better at what you're already best at.

Examples: Mercedes-Benz introduced its newest car as "redesigned inside and out." Nike recently announced a reorganization to "get closer to the customer." And businesses everywhere publicize prestigious new clients, awards, innovations and value enhancements to prove their constant improvements.

Face and OvercomeYour Weaknesses
To grow your business, you have to attract customers who may currently think you don't offer what they want and value.

Action: Learn why customers aren't choosing your business. What do they want that they think you don't offer? If their impressions are wrong, help them see you differently. If they're right, enhance your offerings to earn their business.

Examples: Lexus, known for quality, is working to compete in price as well, promoting a "golden opportunity sales event" with the line, "It's an opportunity today. It's a Lexus forever." Luxury brand W Hotels is promoting "wow-worthy rates." Price competitor Costco offers "delivery to your business." And Netflix, famous for the quality of its DVD inventory, free rush-mail delivery, and all-you-can-watch pricing, has added "watch-instantly" streaming video to reel in more members.

Take Action Today
If the big guys can adjust their mammoth organizations to meet the market's want-it-all demands, your nimble small business can certainly do it as well. Go for it!

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of Small Business Marketing for Dummies and the co-author of Branding for Dummies, Selling Your Business for Dummies and Business Plans Kit for Dummies.

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