By Bridget McCrea
Five ways to set your electrical distributorship apart in today's competitive business environment (Hint: it starts with listening more carefully to your customers).
In Part I of this article series, Gerry O'Brion, speaker, author, and founder of What Big Brands Know, a firm that helps companies of all sizes create disruptive change and growth regardless of their budget, outlined the key challenges that electrical distributors face in their quest to “stand out” in today's marketplace. Here, O'Brion offers distributors five ways to reverse the tide and start pumping up their value equations right now:
- Figure out what your customers want. Larger companies may have the deep pockets and human resources needed to do deep customer research and focus groups, but even the smallest of companies can figure out what their customers want (and then start delivering it). “Spend time listening to your customers, finding out what their frustrations are, and hearing firsthand what they are looking for,” says O'Brion. What you may find is that your contractor-customers just want to be able to run successful businesses in a competitive environment. “Knowing this,” he says, “you can step in and do what it takes to help them get more clients and improve their margins.”
- Deep-six your old value model. Over the last decade, as the prominence of Amazon and online ordering in general has grown, distributors of all sizes have had to pivot, says O'Brion. “They have to navigate to where they need to go next, which means that their old value models just don't work anymore,” he explains. To break out of their molds and adopt new mindsets, O'Brion says distributors need to understand that tomorrow isn't going to be like today. He points to Uber's impact on the taxi cab industry as proof that new business models are disrupting old value models. “No one really uses taxis the way they used to,” says O'Brion, “and the same pace of change is evident in the distribution industry, where the focus needs to be on helping contractors be profitable, and not just on selling products at the lowest possible price.”
- Use your customers as your best referrals. “Everyone wants their customers to refer other customers to them,” O'Brion says, “but the reason why we don't get as many referrals as we want is because we've made it too hard for people to know what to say on our behalves.” To buck this trend, O'Brion says electrical distributors must figure out their “because” or their believability point. Ask yourself questions like, “Why would a customer believe that I can deliver the outcome that I'm promising?” The answer is your “because,” says O'Brion, and it's what makes customers believe in you. And when customers know the answer to that question, they can more easily spread the good word about it to new potential customers. Put simply, make sure your customers can finish this statement in a confident manner: You have to work with XYZ distributor because______. “Think about the few words you wish they would say on your behalf,” says O'Brion. “If you don't know, then your front lines and your customers won't know either.”
- Shine a brighter light on your company's extraordinary value. Having worked for big brands like Procter & Gamble, Coors Light, Quiznos, and Red Robin, O'Brion knows a thing or two about how to position a brand for success in an extremely competitive market. He likes to tell the story of Coors Light's blue can liner, and how the company took a fairly common product feature, called it the Frost Brewed Liner, and watched consumers buy more of its beer. “The secret is that every aluminum can ever made has had a liner inside of it,” says O'Brion. “We turned ours blue, told customers that it existed, and called it the Frost Brewed Liner. Our sales went up by 5% in a flat market where everyone was losing market share.” O'Brion says distributors can use a similar approach to spotlight the many different things that they do for customers on a daily basis. “Don't let it be your best-kept secret,” he says. “Talk about the systems, the benchmarking, the information, and processes that make your company special.
- Take your customers out to dinner. Electrical distributors that want to improve their own value equations should start by sitting down and coming up with a list of insights—or things that they wished they knew about their customers. What do they want more of? What do they want less of? What are their frustrations? What are their hopes, fears, and anxieties? What keeps them up at night? You can get the answers to these questions by having your front lines talk to customers, by doing online surveys, or gathering those customers in small groups. “Take a group of customers out to dinner and find out what's on their minds,” says O'Brion. “Once you get those insights, respond with, 'How can we deliver on what we're hearing better than anyone else can?'”
SIDEBAR: Are You Developing Loyal Customers?
In Six Ways to Create Small Business Loyalty, Gerry O'Brion shows companies how even the smallest companies can have huge advantages over big businesses. “With a few simple ideas you can elevate your local status to a big competitive advantage,” says O'Brion, who shares these six tips for success:
- Be visible. If you're the owner, or the manager, be sure your customers know it, know you, and feel like they've got a personal relationship with you.
- Make a commitment. When having a conversation with a customer, look them in the eye and make a commitment to them.
- Provide more value, make more money. People want you to go the extra step to be sure their needs are met.
- Ordinary to extraordinary. With your team, brainstorm a list of five ways that you could change the typical, ordinary customer experience into something notable, unusual, or extraordinary for that customer.
- Listen. Customers today want to be heard more than ever.
- Be involved. If you want to be local, you have to show up. Contribute to the community through events, sports teams, supporting schools, or other community organizations.
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McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at email@example.com or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.
Tagged with feature, Gerry O'Brion, tED, value-added