Ask yourself these questions:
How am I different from my competitors?
Am I more courteous, prompt, professional, personable, or caring than my competitors are?
Besides the product and service, what do my customers expect and always receive from me?
Why would I be the first person someone would think of if he were looking for the products I sell?
How do I decide where and who I will do business with?
What traits and behaviors do I appreciate most in others?
Am I exhibiting those traits and behaviors for my customers?
What are some of the ways I exhibit these traits and behaviors?
Are the things that make me different important to my customers?
How many different techniques do I use in dealing with my customers?
What kinds of thins do my customers say about me?
Do they say anything about me? What kinds of things do I want them to say about me?
It takes curiosity and creativity to develop an effective differentiator. You must have a natural curiosity about your customers and what is important to them. You must also be creative in looking at your enterprise through the eyes of your customers.
When you examine your own buying preferences, you may notice that a majority of the places and people you trade with do not have any notable differentiator. You may stop at the same gas station for coffee every morning.
Is the coffee better?
Is the gas cheaper?
Is there a better selection of donuts?
Does the clerk greet you by name or mention she didn't see you last week?
Do you stop at this specific gas station simply because it is the most convenient on your way to work?
By virtue of its location, every business is most convenient for some group of people. When that business personalizes and individualizes how they do business, it is broadening their differentiators to include a larger audience of customers.
Alex owns a plate glass and window company in Cincinnati, Ohio. When there are storms, particularly hail or wind storms, Alex and his family ride around downtown and through business districts looking for broken glass. They make a list of businesses that have damaged glass as well as other businesses in the adjacent area. The next morning. Alex and his sales staff make calls to the businesses that sustained glass damage. They also call the adjacent businesses and their customers in the area to notify them that they will be working in that part of town. Alex's business is different from other glass companies; they don't wait to be called. Alex's business is constantly growing with loyal customers who recognize the difference.
My friend Rob owns a power washing business in the Midwest. His company power washes the exterior of hundreds of houses each year. Rob instructs his workers to always find something extra to wash after work on the house is completed. Lawn furniture, patios, and sideways are just a few of the things Rob's workers clean at no extra charge. Customers appreciate the additional effort and tell their friends and neighbors. Rob's customers call him year after year to come back and clean their houses. His business continues to grow with loyal customers. This little difference makes a big difference to Rob's customers.
Most major airlines offer frequent flyer miles and discounts through a variety of online travel agencies. Because most airlines offer these benefits, passengers don't perceive much difference and just expect frequent flyer miles and discounts. Southwest and Jet Blue are two notable exceptions. These airlines do all of their own ticketing. In addition, neither airline offers frequent flyer miles. In a marketplace where nearly every major airline is loosing money or barely breaking even, Southwest and Jet Blue are making a profit. The passenger airline business is very complex and there are many more issues involved in profit and loss than just discounting and frequent flyer miles. However, Southwest and Jet Blue are considered unique carriers and both enjoy tremendous loyalty.
Many times a differentiator has little to do with a product or how it is sold. A business can differentiate by appealing to customers' values. Customers don't buy products just because they share values with a business, but if they are already going to buy a competing product, this value agreement can be a strong differentiator.
Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield started Ben and Jerry's ice cream manufacturing in an old Burlington, Vermont, gas station in 1978. Twenty years later the business had 700 employees, 132 scoop shops across the United States, and revenues in excess of $160 million. Much of this success is attributable to Ben and Jerry's fiercely loyal customers and employees. Is Ben and Jerry's ice cream that much better than any of their competitors? Maybe, but Ben and Jerry's has also differentiated the company from all its competitors by being what Ben Cohen refers to as a "value-led company." In the book Ben & Jerry's: The Inside Scoop: How Two Real Guys Built a Business With a Social Conscience and a Sense of Humor by Fred "Chico" Lager and Jerry Greenfield, Ben is quoted, "When you are a values-led company you're trying to help the community. And when you're trying to help the community, people want to buy from you. They want to work for you. They feel invested in your success." Ben and Jerry's uses its ice cream cartons as billboards for social messages. The company is operated in a manner believed to improve the human condition. Through its values-led philosophy, Ben and Jerry's has differentiated itself from all other ice cream companies. This differentiation has little to do with ice cream and everything to do with providing a product with a differentiator.
As an exercise, choose a customer you have recently transacted business with and who has done business with you on a repeat basis. Make a list noting every detail of your last transaction with this customer. What prompted this last transaction? Did this customer shop or compare your services with a competitor? Why did this customer ultimately choose your business? Make a list denoting how your business is different from your competitors. Is each of these differences perceived by your customers? Can you advertise or promote these differences? How do these differentiators relate to value and assurance for your customers?