The Value of a Nice Ride (Issue 482)

In which we are reminded that our greatest value and differentiation comes from "how" we do what we do rather than from the products we sell.

Our firm, Clarity, is in the process of upgrading and expanding the company’s IT infrastructure to support our plans for the next five years. The upgrade will include hardware, software, and network management services.

As we listen to various firms describe their approaches to our situation, we are somewhat baffled by terminology, product names, and the scope of services.

At one level, as we think about buying the tangible products (hardware, software) proposed by the prospective vendors, we find ourselves wondering:

• How much value will we get if we buy these products?

• How soon will we get it?

• How sure a bet is this?

The differences between the products are small and, for us, difficult to understand. The vendors are having a tough time quantifying and differentiating their value in terms of these tangible products.

When they speak about their services or “intangible products,” we’re also asking: “What’s it going to be like to work with these guys?” And, to date, when we’ve asked that question, the answers have NOT been comforting.

Ted Leavitt, one of the deans of marketing in the United States, once wrote: “The most important thing to know about intangible products [is] not what you deliver so much as the client’s personal, subjective experience of those deliverables that uniquely defines what the client received. Their level of satisfaction and loyalty evolves out of that experience.”

In other words, “It’s not just about the end result, it’s about giving them a nice ride.” Value and differentiation are based in the ride as much as or more than they are in the products or end results.

Many sales organizations and sales representatives focus on building personal relationships to convince clients and prospects of their value. However, in tough economic times, particularly, Clarity, our clients, and other vendors need to do more than that. As one of our readers wrote to us recently, “Clients do not give you unconditional love.” They’re looking for value.

A very good way to communicate and differentiate “the ride” is to focus on our process.

How would we do this? One way involves features  usages/advantages  benefits. For example,

• (Features – the process steps, converting the intangibles of service or relationship management to tangible specifics) “If you banked with us, I would meet with you twice a year for a thoughtful, comprehensive, and expansive review of your goals and plans for the upcoming six months.

We would meet in a conference room. We would lay everything out on the table. We would look at your financial performance – balance sheet, income statement, and cash flow. We would look at the mechanics of your payment cycle management, including your volumes.

We would compare your company to industry benchmarks for financial performance and bank product utilization. We would look at what is changing in your operations and the industry best practices to address those changes.

On an annual basis, we would look at your exposure to various risks and ensure that you’ve addressed them and reduced your vulnerability. As conditions change, I would call to alert you that we should revisit our plans.

• (Usage/Advantages) “A significant number of our clients see these conversations as ‘eye-opening’ experiences that enable them to consider a far wider range of options to manage working capital more effectively and boost their financial performance relative to competitors and their own histories.”

• (Benefit) “As a result, when there have been gaps, they have been able to increase their profitability and, very often, increase available cash within a few weeks.”

Remember, “It’s not just about the outcomes.. It’s about giving them “a nice ride.”

If we’re able to describe the ride – the steps in our process and how we conduct them – as well as the outcomes from the ride, we’re well on our way to communicating and differentiating our value.

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