Differentiation has always been one of the biggest challenges that professionals have faced in attempting to win new clients.
In the age of social media, this challenge is going to become even more difficult as you work to build relationships online. In order to set yourself apart from the competition, you are going to have to embrace the New P's of Differentiation.
The Old “Classic” P's: Product, Price, and Performance
It's common knowledge, at least I hope it is, that you can no longer differentiate your services based upon price. Those who use it as a means to set themselves apart usually end up regretting the consequences (that client whom you gave a break to just won't stop asking for more of your time…at low or no cost). Typically, it doesn't pay to offer discounts and specials as a professional. If you position your services around pricing, it's a losing battle.
You can re-package products and services in fancy ways, but at the end of the day, it is the value that your services bring to the client that matter most. I see thousands of professionals attempting to differentiate through their product and service offerings, but clients know what they want, and they many resources to pull from in order to make decisions. Clients have come to expect a solid product and exceptional service.
Performance is another all-time classic differentiator. If you're a financial advisor, it's investment performance I'm speaking of. If you're a lawyer, perhaps it's getting a strong verdict for your client. If you're a CPA, it might be saving someone significant taxes. Again, these are things that clients expect already when choosing to do business with you. If you have a strong relationship, your performance won't make or break you, unless it's consistently poor.
Assuming you have pricing that is on par with your competitors, high quality products, and can achieve consistent results for your clients, what's left?
The NEW 3 P's
The Classic 3 P's all have one thing in common; they really don't “connect” you with people. They have nothing to do with developing, growing, and strengthening relationships. The NEW 3 P's have everything to do with relationships, and even though they are quite obvious, we don't consciously utilize them to differentiate ourselves as much as we should. In the age of social media, the lines are blurring between business and personal. To win hearts and minds and build a “trusted” network of friends, followers, fans, and advocates, you should begin thinking about how to differentiate yourself from the competition using the NEW 3 P's.
It's all about the client/customer now. Clients are in charge and they have more power than ever before due to the new media social networks, blogs, and forums that now exist as platforms for them to voice their thoughts and opinions. The “People P” centers on the relationship, and how you can best take care of and serve clients, prospects, and advocates above and beyond anything you've ever done before. With millions of people connecting, sharing, conversing, commenting, recommending and reviewing online, your clients and connections have the power to expand your influence in a positive OR negative way, like never before.
If a client really likes you and believes in you, the signals they share about you on social platforms have the potential to reach hundreds if not thousands. If you upset a client, or don't take care of them with good service, that signal can also be sent and have a ripple effect. If you want to stand out in the age of social media, you must communicate frequently, engage, empower, promote, and provide outstanding service to the most important people in your trusted network. How can you best serve them? How can you be a resource to them? What can you do to make their lives better? How can you become valuable and irreplaceable? How can you go above and beyond the average professional in your industry?
We all have a personal side but do we truly show it in business settings? Again, social networking is blurring the lines between business and personal. If you want for people to come to know, like, and trust you before they ever meet you, you must find a way to show your personal side. Social networking and blogging can provide you with a tremendous platform for showcasing both the personal AND business side of YOU! If you use these platforms to solely distribute dry and mundane information about your business or industry, you will not be providing any way for existing and potential clients to really connect with you.
I have a lawyer friend who recently landed an important case. She has experience, strong credentials, a professional online presence, and she's active in social media. When she asked her new clients why they chose her, they said “because we saw that you were a skier and we love skiing! We go every year”. What if the client never knew this detail? Don't be afraid to show your personal side. It can make the difference in winning new business.
Oprah Winfrey has been incredibly successful, whether you are a fan or not, at connecting with people without ever meeting them. Her magic in persuading people to know, like, and trust her has everything to do with her ability to show who she is inside and out. You could even say that she makes herself vulnerable, to a certain extent. There are other people in the public eye who do this well. Learn from them.
We love stories and we love to learn about who people are and what drives them. If you build your digital identity through sharing your personal story, and let your business connections in on your personal life while allowing your personality to shine through, you will build trust and differentiate yourself from other professionals in your field. It can endear people to you in ways that you've never imagined.
What do you care about? What are you passionate about? What has happened in your life that has had a profound impact on you as a human being? What magazines and books do you love to read? How do you spend your leisure time?
Online communities and connections are built around common interests and passions. With the transparency that social media offers, you have a tremendous opportunity to learn about what you might have in common with both clients and prospects while they can also learn what you are passionate about. Do you love dogs? Are you triathlete? Do you love photography? Are you an avid cyclist? Do you enjoy gardening? Do you love to travel the world? Are you fluent in a foreign language? Do you enjoy cooking? Do you volunteer or raise money for charity? (read a story about this financial advisor who combines his passion with charity) All of these are examples of hobbies, interests, and passions.
Sharing what you are passionate about and making these things known throughout the social communities you are involved with can help separate you from the pack. Don't be afraid to be passionate. People with passion are like magnets!
To succeed in building relationships in a wired and connected world, you have to be willing to put the focus on the NEW P's, and forget the old ones. The classic P's are a given. Clients have come to expect that you've got a solid product, your price is fair, and the performance will be there. You've got to take a risk now, and be willing to be vulnerable in the age of social media if you want to differentiate yourself from the competition. You've got to focus on what clients and prospects care about, and find ways to connect with them on a personal level around common interests. If you only use social media as a platform to pump out ghost-written business content, you will not have success. Share your story, and show your personal side!