Breaking Out in a Competitive Marketplace

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Competing in the marketplace today is harder than it used to be. Too many businesses continue to rely on old sales techniques, constantly changing pricing and pushing "buy now" incentives. What they don't realize, however, is that these approaches have become much less effective at drawing in consumers and building lasting relationships with them. To remain relevant and fiscally successful, companies need to shift the focus to the customer and embrace a "unique value promise," a term C. Richard Weylman coins in his new book, The Power of Why: Breaking Out in a Competitive Marketplace. Associate Editor Maria Minsker caught up with Weylman to find out what companies are doing wrong, and how they can adjust their business strategies to be more customer-centric.

CRM: You talk about the need for a shift from a company-centric approach to a more customer-centric one. What happened to the consumer in recent years to create this need for companies to change the way they do business?
C. Richard Weylman: The economic downturn was a cataclysmic moment, so a huge shift came in 2008. Consumers became much more skeptical and very cautious about how they were going to spend their money. They felt that they had been misled by companies and politicians and, as a result, began to grow tired of doing business with people that just wanted to sell something. Rather, customers now wanted businesses to help them solve something, or experience something. They started asking: "Why? Why should I do business with this company? Why should I be loyal to this brand?"

CRM: What are some common mistakes that you see companies making in their attempts to appeal to customers?
People might not realize it, but we actually hear these mistakes all the time. Companies are constantly saying,"We're number one; we have the largest selection of Product X; we have years of experience; we give great service." They tout their attributes or the attributes and features of their products. The reality is those are all coming from the perspective of the firm, the salesperson, or the marketing department. They are continually marketing their attributes. They're not talking to the consumer at all. This is a very old school approach. Today's consumers are far more interested in a unique value promise.

CRM: What is a unique value promise? How can this philosophy help a business?
A unique value promise focuses on emotional meaning, personal benefit, and clear customer outcomes rather than the outdated "unique selling proposition" approach, which emphasizes product features, company attributes, and price. In other words, what's your promise of outcome if I do business with you? If your business is a restaurant, it doesn't matter to me that you serve Italian food, or that you're rated number one in California. What I want to know is if I come to your restaurant, what's my time there going to be like? Am I going to have a family dining experience in a relaxed atmosphere? That's a great promise.

CRM: What can businesses do to ensure that their service platform is consistent with their unique value promise? How can businesses make sure they deliver what they promise?
There are a lot of big brands out there that have satisfied customers, but these customers are always open to something new, something special. When you talk about service, a satisfied client will say, "Service is great." But if you give people elevated service—if you go the extra mile—you transform them into delighted advocates, which is critical, because at that point, they don't care about the price as much as they do the experience they are receiving.

CRM: Have you seen companies embrace this new customer-centric approach and notice results?
Absolutely. Target is a great example of this. For a long time, they weren't doing that well. But they finally started asking their customers, "Why do you buy here?" Their customers told them, "Because we can expect more and pay less." So Target implemented that promise—they put in wider aisles, brighter lights, and organized their products in a more appealing way. We all know what happened after that. Target almost became a cult.

CRM: What advice would you give to companies that are still struggling to become more customer-centric?
Start small. Make incremental changes to become a better business. No matter what you're selling or offering, think about your customers and what they want to get out of their engagement with your product, whatever it may be. Then think about how you can offer that product in the best way possible, and devote your efforts to making your promise to offer it a reality.

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