One of the most important ways that B2B companies succeed is by having a clearly defined competitive advantage. A well-articulated competitive advantage (CA) does a lot of heavy lifting in marketing. It tells prospects what makes your company different than other solutions. It helps them identify why they should do business with you rather than someone else. In our increasingly noisy world, it’s vital that your marketing provide your prospects with a clear, specific and compelling reason to talk with you rather than the other guy.
Knowing that you need to communicate a CA is one thing, but knowing how to define your competitive advantage is quite another. That’s why we’re writing this post.
The mistake that most B2B companies make when it comes to marketing messages is that they use generic, vague, motherhood statements. Here are some examples:
- We focus on innovation
- We’re reliable
- We provide excellent customer service
Sure, these facets of business (innovation, reliability, customer service) are relevant for anyone looking for a new vendor. But they’re hardly compelling. Every business can make statements like this, and in the absence of any proof of your innovation and customer service, prospects are left feeling totally unimpressed by these bland statements.
Instead, compelling CA statements are specific and objective. They provide proof points to potential customers. For example:
- We won three awards from the national research council last year for our product innovations
- Our on-time project completion rate is 98%
- We respond to customer inquiries within 4 hours, guaranteed.
Now those statements pack a punch and will get prospects to call you!
How to define your competitive advantage
When creating marketing messages, the goal is to avoid vague statements and instead develop specific and compelling statements about elements of your company that customers care about.
Here is a 4-step process to help you define a compelling CA:
Create a small working group
You don’t want or need your entire company involved in this process (unless you’re a team of less than 5 people). A team of up to 8 is usually good. Include representation from various functions in your business (sales, engineering, customer service, leadership). This team can integrate their knowledge and expertise to define your company’s CA.
Book a workshopDoing an in-person workshop for 90-minutes is the most effective way to get your team’s input in a focused, powerful way. Set an agenda and share it with your CA working group. Usually one workshop is sufficient – if you need to do a follow up, you can set that up after the first workshop. You can do this process via email if you have to (for example, if your team members are spread out over multiple offices and won’t be getting together any time soon). But aim for an in-person workshop if you possibly can.
Workshop – Part One, Define attributes
The first step in defining a solid competitive advantage is to define the attributes of your company that are different from your competitors, and compelling to your prospects. What do you have that your competitors don’t? What makes your business interesting and helpful to customers? Some attributes to consider include: customer service, reputation, innovation, quality, business model, knowledgeable staff, innovative products, value-add processes, niche expertise, monitoring services, and others. Create a laundry list of reasons that customers do business with you and what makes your company different (different - not just better or worse) than competitors.
Once you have your attributes laundry list, prioritize the list. Look at all the reasons you’ve identified, and categorize them (some items on your list may be similar or overlap with others). You will usually come up with 5 – 10 categories. Now, identify the top 3. These are your CA pillars.
Create specific and objective messages
Once you have your CA pillars, it’s time to create specific and objective messages that will convey your competitive advantages to prospects. You don’t want to be generic, or you’ll just sound like everyone else. Instead, do some research to identify specific and objective statements. You’ll know you’ve arrived at compelling CA statements when each phrase has a symbol. What do I mean by symbols? Those are the numbers (#), percentages (%) and dollar signs ($) that convey what you help customers achieve. Symbols always capture the attention of prospects, because they’re tangible and measurable.
After your initial CA process, try your statements out on prospects. See which ones resonate most with them. You’ll likely want to do some wordsmithing and refining after a few months. When our marketing department service team starts work with a new B2B company, we almost always use this process to them the company identify their CA, and helps us identify the right messages to include in sales and marketing campaigns./ We hope it works for you too!
Looking for more tools to help your marketing success this year? Download the free Kickstart Your 2016 Marketing guide for templates and tools.