You’re Not The Same As Your Competitors!

I try to make time to visit as many of the UK’s IT Community Groups, Peer Groups and User Groups as I’m able to. Whenever I’m in a town, I look up the local IT Community group and make the time to visit with them. This is time well spent for me, as doing so allows me to build new connections with my peers and catch-up with existing friends, hear how people are overcoming business challenges and generally keep my ear to the ground.

If you ever happen to be at the same group meeting as me, and fancy a little  chuckle at my expense, then watch my face during the round-the-table introductions typically used at the beginning of these meetings.

The first introduction typically go like this (names and locations purely fictional)

“Hi, I’m Carlos from Best Fix IT and we’re an IT company from Edinburgh. We provide IT Support to Small Businesses in the Edinburgh area.

The second introduction then often goes like this:-

“Hi, I’m Manuel from Faster Fix IT. We do pretty much the same stuff Carlos does, but we’re in Glasgow”.

Remember I told you to be watching my face during these introductions? Well it’s starting to go a nice shade of red now.

The third introduction continues:-

“Hello everyone. I’m Raul and I’m from Supreme Speed IT. Erm – I guess we do the same as Carlos and Manuel, but we’re from Dundee”

Still watching me? Well you’ll start to try to suppress a snigger at this point as you watch my face go a nice shade of purple, biting on my tongue.

Why am I going purple in frustration?

Because whatever business you run, you don’t do the same thing as your competitors.

Cloned businessmen, based on an excellent photo by Jean Scheijen.Even when you’re at a User Group meeting where you are probably surrounded by friendly peers who work in the same industry space as you, most likely with many of the same technologies, you don’t do the same thing as them.

Your clients don’t work with you because you’re the only IT company in your local area. They work with you because of something unique you bring to that relationship.

What is that unique thing? Well, it could be because you focus on providing exceptional Customer Service and can give examples of this. It could be you specialise in providing out-of-hours support. It could be a Technical skill you’ve worked hard at becoming an expert in – SQL Server, Scripting, Windows Home Server. It could be a certain Technology you’ve worked with extensively – SharePoint, Linc, Voice-over-IP. It could even be a soft skill – business networking, peer collaboration, strategic alliance building.

My own MSP grew a reputation for building strong working relationships with peers and vendors around the UK, allowing us to provide the same high levels of support to a client 100 miles away as someone within our local area. You could be sure that everyone knew that, because we weren’t shy about telling people!

In my local user group, and I suspect it’s the same for every local user group, there are people who are “Go To” guys for certain things. Sharepoint and BPOS are two that spring to mind. Those people who seem to know everyone are another. The reason these peers are “Go To” guys? They don’t simply state they do the same thing as everyone else, they let people know that they excel in a particular field.

“Hi, I’m Leanne from Fast-React IT. We’re based in the Aberdeen and we provide outsourced IT services to small business clients in the Aberdeen area. We also specialise in helping clients with distributed workforces, providing strong VPN and Remote Worker solutions”.

If you’re not sure why your clients work with you, then go ahead and ask them! It’ll be a useful exercise because you’ll learn a lot about your business, and it’ll give your client pause to consider exactly why it is they value your time.

“Hello, I’m Scarlet from FixIT Services. We work in the Lothians, and our clients tell us they choose to work with us because we’ve developed high levels of Customer Service and go the extra mile to help them. As a result, we typically work with high-value, rapidly expanding companies within the Finance industry”.

The next time you’re at a User Group meeting, think about what you *really* do. I bet when you boil it down, it’s not that you fix SBS systems like everyone else, but something entirely more valuable. Share that reality with the group.

As a result, whilst you’ll no longer have the opportunity to laugh at my face going purple in frustration anymore, I bet you’ll gain a lot of confidence in how you describe your own business.

 

Richard Tubb is an IT Business Consultant who works with IT companies who want to grow their businesses in a scalable and sustainable way. He is also a Microsoft UK Small Business Specialist Partner Area Lead (PAL) and the chair of the CompTIA UK Channel Community. You can e-mail him at richard@tubblog.co.uk or connect with him via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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10 Responses to “You’re Not The Same As Your Competitors!”


  1. 1 Susanne Dansey July 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

    You’re right Ric, you do go purple! What IT Professionals also tend to forget when it comes to their intros is their extensive wealth of experience as business professionals. Not only are they knowledgeable in the field of technology but they are actively running their own businesses just like their own clients.

    This is a really great (and relevant) post although I’m not sure about your tendency to use Spanish names in your examples… 🙂

    • 2 tubblog July 4, 2011 at 3:47 pm

      Susanne – I know, purple isn’t a good look on me is it? Interesting you mention IT Pro’s wealth of experience as Business Professionals. Agreed. In my former life as an MSP owner, I noticed clients approaching us for all sorts of general business advice, not just IT related. This is the move towards the true “Trusted Business Advisor” role we so often speak of in our field.

      As for my Spanish name use. I did it so as not to make anyone feel I was chatting about them directly. It failed though when Raul from Dundee e-mailed me to ask why I was talking about him. 😉

  2. 3 budchawla July 4, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Great post – you make a very valid point about differentiation, and knowing what you / your company stand for and what makes you unique. This reminds me of an interesting recent post I saw about Apple and their focus on the “why” rather than “what”.

    We always ask our clients why they work with us, what they like and dislike about our service – and the answers will normally provide very valuable insight into our company and our clients’ needs / wants. Sometimes the answers are totally not what we expect!

    • 4 tubblog July 4, 2011 at 3:44 pm

      Thanks for the feedback – appreciate you taking the time to leave it!

      I don’t think you’re alone in being surprised at some of the feedback you receive from clients, once you’ve prompted them. We can lose sight of what we’re very good at ourselves, and sometimes it takes others to remind us of that!

  3. 5 Lee Evans July 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    Ric- I think it’s an important point and completely agree with the underlying theme. Nobody should go around a table at any meeting saying ‘we do the same as the last/other/that guy’.

    That said, I believe most people are far too hung up with the notion of a ‘unique selling proposition’ or ‘elevator pitch’ or uncovering something totally unique about their business. The truth is, from a top level perspective, many of the businesses in our space and at the type of meetings we both attend *are* very similar. Actually, we probably *do* do the same thing. We sell to the same sort of clients. We use the same or similar products and services. We collaborate in the same communities. We all value our clients and do everything we can to deliver good customer service. We all ‘bridge the gap between IT and business’. we all speak plain-english instead of techno-babble… the list goes on and on.

    None of these things are unique.

    Truth is, there are very few truly unique businesses out there. The Dyson vacuum cleaner is(was) unique. A regional professional service firm which ‘cares passionately about it’s customers’ is not.

    The best (worst) example I came across this recently was at a fairly respectable global hotel chain – the Intercontinental in Miami. Their TVs default to their own marketing channel, and in their (almost) exact words, claim..

    “what makes us truly unique is our commitment and passion for customer service”

    ermm… which genius wrote this? Which upmarket hotel chain *isn’t* passionate about its customer service?!

    The worst thing that can happen is that you actually start to * believe* that this BS makes you unique – well, your potential clients won’t be so easily convinced.

    (great shout about evidence – having lots of strong *evidence* of your commitment to customer service probably would differentiate you.. but then we’re getting into a whole different subject)

    The secret – which you have covered here with reference to the specific IT community meetings – is that your message should always be tailored to your audience. (okay – hard to do for a global hotel chain, I admit. Not so for a small regional IT service provider)

    It doesn’t matter what makes you unique in the broad sense of the word that everybody seems to focus on (you’re probably not, in anyway that can be communicated honestly, effectively and in the space of a few minutes.)

    It matters what makes you uniquely qualified to address a need or pain point a specific person or group of people may have at that moment in time.

    You’ve covered that well here but I think it deserves a little more emphasis. If you’re in a meeting of SMB IT service providers, chances are your business *are*, from a top level perspective, pretty much the same. As you have written, you absolutely should be able to think of something to say – there is nothing wrong with ‘we’re pretty much the same as you guys, *but*, we do have a really strong skillset in Sharepoint/BPOS/. Chances are, you’ll be talking about something that means something to that audience.

    When you talk to a prospect who is fed up with a provider taking too long to respond to phone calls, it is no good waffling on about your pre-prepared ‘USP’ if it is that you are plain-english speaking and have 10 years experience. Fail.

    great discussion

    cheers
    Lee

    • 6 tubblog July 5, 2011 at 8:12 am

      Lee – fair comments. I’m leaning towards agreeing with you on the whole USP thing – and I too am slowly going off the traditional idea of elevator pitches as an introduction method – but what you said about tailoring your pitch to your audience is what struck a chord with me. If you’re at a peer group meeting, then this would be what you specialise in. If you’re in front of a client, then the best thing you can do is listen. Let them do 75% of the talking.

  4. 7 sharon tanton July 5, 2011 at 8:14 am

    Good post, and I agree completely. Understanding your USP is crucial for building your business – if you can’t articulate what you do, it’s very hard to sell your services to others. It’s the details that make your offer come alive, and make it easier for other people to refer you.

  5. 9 Gareth Brown July 5, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Great post.

    From a business manager’s perspective, I wonder if there is any perception of ‘additional risk’ from engaging with a services company who provide a unique proposition.

    Perhaps if managed IT is about reducing risk a ‘unique approach’ may not be as successful as an ‘industry standard’ one.

    Food for thought?

    • 10 tubblog July 6, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      Gareth – good point. I think it’s possible to talk about how you follow industry accepted “Best Practices” without suggesting you’re a “Cookie Cutter” IT company. I’d be inclined to talk to clients about the ways you adopt these Best Practices – for instance, standardised IT equipment from a single vendor across client sites. You could talk about how standardisation in this way brings benefits such as the fact you purposely work hard at maintaining an awesome relationship with that particular vendor, and all your engineers know their kit inside and out – which brings numerous obvious benefits to the client.

      I suspect, given everyone’s comments, that there’s a good conversation to be had around this topic isn’t there?


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