Ask yourself these questions:
What do my customers value in doing business with me?
How do I know what is of value to my customers?
How much emphasis do I put on the price of the products that I sell?
Is price really the most important issue to my customers?
Have I asked my customers what is most important to them?
Besides price and product, what other value do I offer my customers?
Do my customers know about these other values?
Do I regularly make promises to my customers?
Do I always keep my promises?
Do I always do what I say I'll do, when I say I'll do it?
Does doing business with me make my customers feel good?
It takes severe objectivity and tremendous tenacity to consistently deliver value and assurance to your customers. Few business owners or professionals would admit that their product or service lacked value or was only equal to other products or services in the marketplace.
All of us believe that what we offer to the world is of value. But in order to deliver value that will create loyal customers, we must be totally objective in the appraisal of the product or service we offer. We must force ourselves to look at our business through the eyes of the customer. Value isn't about words or slogans, it's about making customers feel good, solving their problems, providing the best alternative, and delivering it all with the assurance that they can depend on you.
While you must look at your customers and the marketplace with total objectivity, your customers are viewing products and the marketplace with total subjectivity. The value of goods and services is personal. The customer ultimately decides what something is worth. It is our job to understand what the customer most values and respond appropriately.
The marketplace is dynamic with new products, businesses, services, and ideas being offered every day. Value is not static; it changes as the marketplace changes. Every executive, business owner, entrepreneur, professional, and salesperson needs to be aware and prepared to adapt the value they offer their customers. Assessing what our customers value is an ongoing process and we must be tenacious in our efforts.
IBM was losing its market share in the early 1990s. Its customers believed that IBM offered great products and services, but felt the company was difficult to deal with. Customers complained that communicating with IBM was slow and tedious. Answers to customer's questions often took weeks instead of hours or days. Customers complained that IBM had an attitude of being the only solution to any IT problem. Even when customers requested a different account representative to call on them, IBM sales management refused to assign a new representative. Many of IBM's previously loyal customers began shopping elsewhere. IBM had quality products, but its customers failed to see the value in dealing with a business with a company that seemed so inflexible and difficult.
IBM was objective in its assessment of customer complaints. The company didn't try to defend its behavior, but instead looked for real solutions to improving its relationship with customers. IBM understood that customers have the final say in how they want to be treated and what is of value. IBM regained its market share. IBM is tenacious in its commitment to serving its customers.
William S. Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycle in 1903. That first year they only sold one motorcycle. By 1910, the Harley-Davidson Motor Company was up and running and sold 3,200 bikes. By 1920, the company saw its production exceed 28,000 motorcycles. Over the years the company has had more than its share of problems. The company suffered from a reputation for poor quality and approached bankruptcy on more than one occasion. The company has had to compete from an unfair disadvantage against foreign competitors that have much lower labor rates.
Today, Harley-Davidson enjoys a tremendous reputation for quality and value. It not only competes, but also dominates the large motorcycle marketplace. The motorcycles the company competes against are substantially less expensive and outperform the Harley in speed and economy. How does Harley-Davidson do it?
The Harley-Davidson relationship with cyclists is one difference between it and its competitors. Harley-Davidson's customers aren't just buying a motorcycle, they are buying the Harley experience.
The experience is more than just riding a motorcycle. The experience includes membership in the Harley Owners Group, or HOGs, which has local chapters throughout America. The National organization as well as the local chapters host open houses, schedule motorcyclist vacations, and even offer support groups specifically for female riders. The sale of Harley accessories, including riding leathers, T-shirts, key chains, and other items are reported to represent a substantial portion of the company's revenue, and these products further define the Harley experience. Harley owners could buy these items at less cost from several retailers, but their loyalty requires them to buy authentic Harley-Davidson goods.
Harley-Davidson doesn't just sell a motorcycle, it sells an experience, a culture, and value. Harley-Davidson assures this value by offering parts and service on all their motorcycles, regardless of the model or age.
Harley-Davidson offers a unique value proposition: the total experience of Harley-Davidson motorcycle ownership. It is more than a fraternity, it is a brotherhood. The only brand of motorcycle that can give you entrance into this brotherhood is Harley-Davidson. The year or model does not matter; if it's a Harley, you're in.
As an exercise, choose a few of your current customers who you deal with on a repeat basis. Ask them what they most value in your products, services, and the way you do business. Ask them with whom they would do business if they weren't trading with you. Ask them what they like about this other business. Ask them what they would change about your business. Repeat this exercise with new customers or prospects that have not done business with you. Does your value proposition support the responses you are getting? Can you adapt your value proposition to better serve your customers?