Are you “different” in a competitive market — Really?

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michael stone
Michael Stone makes some compelling points.
Michael Stone's newsletter
Michael Stone’s newsletter

Michael Stone reminds us in a recent newsletter of a couple of phrases that can cover sloppy and lazy practices — and defeat your business before you start.

  • “My Business is Different”
  • “I Work in a Competitive Market”

While Stone writes primarily for residential contractors, I think these phrases apply to the mind-sets of most architects, engineers and ICI contractors.

We like to think we are different — and if we are truly successful, we will have enough differentiation to at least cause clients to perceive something unique about us. But most of the time, this language is misapplied to imply that we don’t need to follow the basic practices essential for virtually every business, or that we are just doing what we should be supposed to be doing, in the first place.

Stone writes:

It can help to separate yourself from some contractors by doing things right: returning phone calls, showing up on time for appointments, keeping jobs clean, doing what you agreed to do. That’s running your business like a business and not a hobby. But it doesn’t make you different, it makes you normal. You’re doing what you’re supposed to do. You’re a business owner. It’s what’s expected. The flakes are the ones who are different.

You don’t want to be different. You want to be normal.

As for “I work in a Competitive Market,” Stone is 100 per cent correct in asserting we ALL work in a competitive market (except, perhaps, if we have a rare and generally illegal monopoly).

Stone says you need to get away from a mind-set where you think about competing based on price; that is a loser’s game. Instead, you need to learn how to sell (and, in a correlated way, learn how to market your business effectively, because great marketing makes it easier to sell effectively):

When you say that you work in a competitive market, your focus is on price. Isn’t that really what you’re saying? You have to reduce your price or use a lower markup because there are other people doing the same work, and they only way you’ll get jobs is if your price is lower.

You can’t win that game. If you’re marketing to the right people, their major concern isn’t getting the lowest price unless you make it their concern.

The profitable salespeople don’t worry about being competitive. Their focus is on providing a good service to their clients and making a profit doing it. They won’t and don’t compromise by “bidding” on jobs, or by trying to be competitive. They focus on making a profit on each and every job they do.

It’s not easy learning to sell, but it’s a skill that can be developed with practice. The sooner you start practicing, the sooner you’ll become a profitable salesperson.

Other contractors are out hustling business just like you. Some are focused on price and fall into the trap of trying to be competitive. When you visit a potential client who just spent two hours with another contractor hearing how low their prices are, you have an excellent opportunity to turn the client’s focus back to what really counts, and that’s the value you provide.

The conclusion: If “being different” just means doing the stuff that you should do, you aren’t really there yet. Capturing that unique marketing advantage — where you truly stand out as the expert/authority and specialist who can rightfully command the price you want, not what your competitors dictates, takes plenty of effort and genuine achievements. However, you can learn basic selling skills right away — and elevate yourself from the mass chasing the low bid competitive morass.

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