COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JEFFREY GITOMER

What’s the difference between you and your competition?

Are you the dominant brand, or is your brand bland?

Are you different from your competition, or do you just think you are? Are you different from your competition, or do you just tell customers and prospects you are?

Or are you different from your competition, and others clearly perceive you as both different and better?

It’s not what you think or believe, it’s what your customers do and say. If I ask you what the difference between you and your prime competition is, and your answer is “our people” or “me,” you’re in serious trouble.

If you asked your customer what the difference is, what would they say?

“Cheaper?”

“Closer to my home?”

“I dunno, been using them for years.”

“Six of one — half a dozen of the other.”

You’re in trouble.

Your reputation is a reality check of where you actually are versus where you think you are:

• What’s your customer reputation? Have a face-to-face talk in which you ask 100 of your customers what they really think of you, and why they buy.

• What’s your social reputation? Do customers post on your business Facebook page, or do they recommend you on their social media accounts?

• What’s your industry reputation? How do both leaders and vendors perceive you in your industry?

• What’s your community reputation? If you had a community town hall meeting, what would they say about you?

Here are more painful reputation questions about your company and your products:

• What are you doing to build it?

• What are you doing to innovate it?

• What are you doing to change or enhance your customer’s experience?

Apple is the classic example of a brand, with products that back it up. Its competition often mentions Apple in their ads. If you brag that you’re “just like Apple,” personally I want Apple. The experience I have in Apple stores is in perfect harmony with the brand they’re portraying.

In the computer industry, the smartphone industry, the tablet industry, and the music player industry, everyone has to start with some sort of comparison to Apple — just like, better than, cheaper than. Whatever they say, they mention Apple. Only Apple stands alone, not comparing themselves to other products unless it’s a joke. They don’t have to talk about their competition; Apple is the innovator. And it does it at its price.

What’s up in your world? Are you the dominant brand? Are you Amazon.com Inc.? EBay? Jacuzzi? Kellogg’s Corn Flakes? Jell-O? Kleenex?

Are you comparing your products to the competition, or differentiating yourself from the competition?

Are you trying to justify price, or does your quality reputation precede you?

Is your brand, product, or service market superior, and you haven’t elevated yourself to that position?

There are brands that used to be No. 1 and have fallen to No. 2 or lower, either by inferior products, inferior service or disgraced reputation. Barnes & Noble, Microsoft, BlackBerry, American Airlines and Tiger Woods, to name a few.

Here are 5.5 interviews you need to do to get the truth from people who are willing to give it to you. To get a better tomorrow, you have to know where you are today.

1. Interview customers who love you. They’ll tell you the good stuff.

2. Interview customers who left you. They’ll tell you why and how to improve.

3. Interview customers who said no to you. They’ll tell you why they chose someone else.

4. Interview loyal employees. They’ll tell you why they love you.

5. Interview departed employees. They’ll tell you why they left you.

5.5. Interview industry leaders. They’ll give you the big picture you may not be able to see.

Leave PR, marketing and advertising out of the equation, or you may never get to the truth. My recommendation is to hire an outside branding company, and at least get a new perspective on the outside world (your customers and the marketplace) and the inside world (your people).

After your interviews, here’s what to do:

• Be realistic as to outside opinions, and how you can create improvement.

• Create internal excitement about innovation and new ideas.

• Train and teach attitude, self-belief and creativity.

• Give people paid days off just to think and create.

• Create a sense of self-pride in your people by listening to their thoughts and ideas.

• Praise and implement new ideas.

Result: a new, market-dominant, more profitable you.


Gitomer is the author of "The Sales Bible" and "The Little Red Book of Selling." President of Charlotte-based Buy Gitomer, he gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts Internet training programs on selling and customer service at trainone.com. He can be reached at salesman@gitomer.com.

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