Stand out from the competition...be an alternative
Most of the time, most of the people you meet are not looking for a new technology consultant. Ultimately, marketing is about positioning your company so that you’re “in the running” when someone decides to start looking for a new technology consultant.
But when companies go looking, they’re not looking for just another consultant. In most cases, they’re making a change for a reason. They’re looking for something different than what they have. So you need to ask yourself: Are you the same as the competition, or are you an alternative to the competition?
I am frustrated sometimes when I hear people say that they can’t make a change in their business (such as charging in advance for services) because their competition doesn’t do it that way. The question you should ask is, does the client care about this thing? When they consider the differences between your company and the competition, what stands out as a true differentiator?
It’s much better for you to simply create your business the way you want to run it. Then find clients who want to do business your way. Luckily, the world of technical support has an endless supply of clients. So you’re sure to find people who want to do things your way.
Begin with your brand in mind
What is your brand? What makes your business new, different, interesting, or better? Please don’t say “nothing.” Nothing means you’re a commodity. Nothing means old, same, uninteresting, no better than the rest. Obviously, you don’t describe your business that way.
We all base our buying decisions on a variety of factors. And when you have choices, the little things begin to stand out. For example, do you prefer Subway sandwiches or Togo’s sandwiches? And when I ask why, the answer will be about details. After all, they both sell a wide variety of sandwiches on a variety of breads. Perhaps you think one has healthier ingredients, or that one is more generous with the cheese. Maybe it’s the sauces or the chips.
Maybe a sandwich shop is just a sandwich shop.
Maybe a technology consultant is just a technology consultant.
As you examine your business, consider what truly sets you apart. Are you better with documentation? Are your people more highly trained? Do you have the best tools in the business?
Start by asking this question:
“How do we differently from our competition?”
Now fill in that blank with every action in your company. How do we deliver services differently? How do we sell our services differently? How do we document networks differently? How do we manage backups differently? How do we communicate differently? How do we sell hardware differently? How do we manage patches and updates differently?
Make this a project in your company. Look internally and define what makes you different. That’s your brand – or the beginning of it. Put a big red star next to things you do dramatically differently.
Now consider whether it’s the brand you want to be. If not, that’s okay. Because now you have a list of things you do differently and you can intentionally change the ones you don’t like. You can become the brand you want to be.
As you go through this exercise, think about the one or two things that make you really stand out. Author Doug Hall (Jump Start Your Business Brain) argues that “dramatic difference” will have a dramatic impact on your success. He points out that a new offering with low differentiation has about a 15% chance of being successful, while an offering that’s dramatically different has a 53% probability of success.
Education and culture
I believe that company culture is simply the collective habits of the people within a company. This can evolve by itself or intentionally. Branding ultimately results from intentionally building habits that are consistent with the vision of what you want to be.
It all ties together. What you do and how you do it become your brand. Building this into a sustainable set of behaviors comes from policies and procedures that are passed along to new employees and supported from the top of the company on down.
When you’ve built a company that’s truly different, you stand out from the competition. You become an alternative. You become a choice. With luck, you become the choice.
And remember that choices are sometimes made on the smallest things. When the client doesn’t understand technology, they have to choose a consultant based on other criteria. They have to base their choice on something they understand. Maybe that’s professionalism, an ability to talk business speak instead of geek speak, or the fact that your people are consistently courteous in their working environment. Maybe your billing practices make it easier for the client to do her accounting. Or maybe your quoting process makes it easier for your primary contact to get projects approved.
Culture takes hold when your people begin to talk to each other about whether decisions are consistent with “the way we do things” in your company. When that happens, your people are building a sustainable brand for your company.
In the end, the things that make your company different are the embodiment of your company’s mission, vision, and purpose. On the intellectual side, you have your vision. On the action side you have the daily habits that make the vision a reality.