Bob Lohfeld

COMMENTARY

4 ways to stand out in a crowded market

Ever notice that there are hundreds of companies in your market that sell essentially the same services — and few that manage to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack? Effectively setting your company apart from the crowd is called strategic differentiation.

Many buyers realize that companies that differentiate themselves provide better services and bring additional value to their work. This translates into buying preference for these firms and buyer willingness to pay higher prices and accept higher profit margins.

Companies differentiate themselves in four fundamental ways — relationships, exceptional performance, innovation and behavior. Strategic differentiation should be part of every company’s strategic plan and must carry forward into each capture manager’s capture plan.

Relationships 

Business development in the government market runs on relationships. If you have solid relationships in the market you serve, presumably you have a better understanding of the programs you pursue and the customer’s objectives, along with better access to information needed to formulate your winning strategies.

Companies that differentiate themselves through relationships have in-depth knowledge about their markets and associated government leaders and agency needs. Executives develop relationships by leading or overseeing company projects, working with industry associations that have government executives’ participation, and presenting on the speaking circuit. Frequently, companies that differentiate via relationships hire former government executives and deploy them in client-facing roles to ensure better understanding of requirements and to help build advocacy for their firms.

As we often say, the best informed wins — and “informed” begins with relationships. Capture managers should leverage existing relationships and integrate them into each capture plan to raise buyer confidence that your company will provide superior contract performance and to help you better grasp customer needs.

Delivering exceptional performance 

Exceeding customer expectations can become part of your company’s culture, but it does not happen by itself. You need a systematic plan to identify customer expectations, set performance objectives, and measure how well you exceed customer expectations. Companies can make this part of their formal incentive program to ensure they recognize and reward exceptional performance. 

Most companies talk about exceptional performance in their proposals, but this is merely proposal puffing. Other companies integrate it into their culture and have solid programs to ensure they consistently achieve high performance standards. Customers see the results of these programs through the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System and via past performance reference checks. Exceptional past performance raises a buyer’s expectations that your firm will perform well and can engender a buying preference for your firm.

Innovation 

Today’s innovations become tomorrow’s status quo. If you want to differentiate your company via your innovative solutions, you must build innovation into your company’s culture. You need a formal innovation program to ensure continuous innovation. While today’s innovation can help win a procurement, consistent innovation creates sustainable competitive advantage. 

Companies that innovate always ask “Is there a better way to do the work? How can we use technology to reduce labor? How can process improvements deliver better service at a lower price? How can we reduce the time needed to deliver results?” Innovation needs to become a formal step in the solution-development process used by every capture team. Don’t propose to do the work the way you did it last time. Instead, propose advancements that bring better value to the customer. Innovation is a moving target. If you make innovation part of your competitive practice, you will consistently provide better solutions, translating into a buying preference for your firm.

Behavior 

Every time you interact with a customer or prospective customer, to that customer you are your company, and the way you behave sets the customer’s expectations about your entire firm. If you are prepared, can answer questions effectively, follow up as requested, and act in a professionally competent manner, then the customer will think everyone in your firm acts the same way. On the other hand, if you are poorly prepared, don’t understand the discussion, and fail to follow up on requests, your prospective customer will think everyone in your firm acts the same way — decreasing the likelihood that person will buy from your firm.

Companies can establish positive behavioral characteristics by setting expectations internally. For example, simply saying in your voice mail greeting that you will return a call before the end of the business day speaks volumes about your commitment to customer service. It’s the little things that count. Summing up these “little things” identifies the behavioral characteristics of your firm, and positive behavior can translate into a buying preference.

Building your differentiation strategy 

Every company integrates elements of these four differentiation strategies to varying degrees. Some concentrate on one or two, and this may be sufficient for your market. However you decide to proceed in building your strategy, remember that without differentiation in four fundamental ways — relationships, exceptional performance, innovation, and behavior — and without incorporating strategic differentiation into your strategic plan and capture plans, you diminish the likelihood your firm will stand out from the crowd.

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