How to Become Preferred in Business

NEW YORK (CRM Evolution 2012)—In business and in the quest to build better customer relationships, your goal should be to become the preferred provider of whatever it is you sell.

That was the overarching theme of this morning's keynote presentation at the CRM Evolution conference in New York City, led by Michael Vickers, executive director of Summit Learning Systems and best-selling author of Becoming Preferred: How to Outsell Your Competition.

"If you learn to identify your customers' stress (points) better than your competition, you'll be ahead," Vickers said. "You must continuously challenge your assumptions. People make decisions with their emotions first and then back it up with logic."

In order to grow, companies need to get out of the habit of "leapfrogging" each other on points like price and product feature sets; instead, those with a competitive advantage will move out of the realm of transactions and into the realm of a better brand experience, Vickers says.

"Take a standard service offering and up-level it," Vickers advised. "It's what we add to the experience, and the transaction, that makes it what it is. Even if a company has a better widget than you, if you have a better experience, you'll win."

Vickers touched on companies that, he says, have up-leveled their service offerings. Nordstrom, eBay, Apple, and Lexus are all companies that seek to provide a better, even special, service experience. Some of the best companies know how to appeal to their customer's five senses. At Starbucks, you can drink the coffee you smell. You can buy the music you hear. Lighting is important, too, and Starbucks wins points here too.

Senses play into perception, and perceptions shape reality. If you want more customers and associated profits, you have to imagine what it is your customers need and want, Vickers explained.

"Who should have invented the digital camera?" he asked. "Polaroid."

"You have to figure out what business you're in. You have to start with 'why' you're in business. When I buy insurance, I'm not buying insurance. I'm buying what it does. You have to sell what (your product or service) does."

Vickers highlighted the five customer values every company needs to take into account; the first being price. Vickers said that "price is never the issue unless it is the issue." There is low-cost and there is premium. Falling in the middle can be tricky territory.

The second customer value is time. "People will pay a premium to save time."

The third customer value is prestige. Vickers asked the audience why today's conference was held at the Marriott Marquis instead of a community center. "People will pay a premium to feel special."

The next customer value is reliability. "People will pay a premium for quality." Finally, the currency of knowledge trumps all. "When you partner with knowledge, your value becomes distinctive." Vickers named Google as an example of a knowledge-centric company.

In conclusion, it's critical for companies to "make sure what you do is aligned with why you do it," Vickers added. "We must bring value as the market defines it."

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