Compete At Your Peril?

I just started reading “Zero To One” by Silicon Valley innovator, entrepreneur and prominent venture capitalist, Peter Thiel. He presents a unique way of thinking as a key ingredient for startup success. Startups have to generate new ideas and act on them rapidly to grow and expand their operations. That’s really the only way they can survive. They have to think out of the box and react quickly to take advantage of perceived market trends. Because of their small size, they can be nimble and test/document/respond to their ideas and deliver them in market with tight turnaround timeframes.

But that’s not an easy feat when you have to deal with that pesky little problem called competition. Yes, it fuels the creative flames but sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the rat race. As a small business owner, you need to make sure your brand stands out from the rest in a positive way otherwise you’ll never get the recognition you need to prosper.

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Competition is healthy to a point. It drives us to excel but it can divert our attention from developing new ways of becoming even better. Think of it this way. You make giglets and compete with three other giglet manufacturers. It’s all-out war between your companies because you are all struggling to be the number one giglet manufacturer in the world, all focused on being more attractive to prospective buyers, using new colors, shapes and sizes to differentiate your offerings from those of your foes, tearing down the competition at every turn, thinking, hoping and praying these methods will advance your sales goals.

But you’re all missing the critical element of innovation. Changing small facets of your product to make it look a little nicer isn’t transformational. It’s imitative and largely ineffective in the grand scheme of things. Focusing all your efforts on competing with others in your space is a waste of time, effort and resources and will only get you marginal results until another giglet manufacturer comes along and figures out how to take the show to the next level. Then POOF! Your giglets are history.

Instead, figure out what your brand brings to the table, what your value proposition is and how you can make your offering more relevant to the lives of your targeted customers. Do something BRAND NEW and go from ZERO to ONE. That type of thinking and execution results in positive impacts to your bottom line. Get out of the way of your competition. Let them spend their precious time battling for that top spot. You focus energy, time and effort on what makes your offering inherently great or how you can GET TO GREAT.

Your path to the top will then be within reach.

Taking It To The Street…Maybe With Some Wine And Cheese

In a world where virtual is no longer the alternate reality, there is still a lot to be said for direct human contact as a driver of prospects and sales.

Let’s face it, we’re all way too dependent on our mobile devices and completely absorbed in email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube…and on and on. But all the action is online, right??

Ummm, research shows that’s not exactly the case anymore.

Successful selling is rooted in relationships…personal relationships established via in-person meetings and informal, lighthearted conversations. So we need to turn our focus to OFFLINE advertising to differentiate us from the competition. Making yourself accessible to potential customers, giving them a chance to find out who you are and what you’re all about – it goes a very long way and may make them more inclined to patronize your business.

Hitting the pavement may be just the ticket to launch your company to the next level. If you were wandering around a bookstore, wouldn’t you think it was cool to run into an author in your favorite genre hosting a meet and greet? Maybe get a chance to pick their brain about their characters, what drives them to write, where they draw inspiration from? Maybe you might buy one of his/her books because you were just so impressed with their warmth and engaging personality. Maybe you read the book, love it and recommend it to a friend. Maybe that friend is Ellen DeGeneres and the author gets picked up for a segment based on your referral and hits the New York Times bestseller list the next week. Just saying, it could happen. And so the story goes…no pun intended. =)

Don’t discount the importance of face-to-face interaction. A handshake and a smile feel so much better than a private Facebook message, don’t they?? Hosting a cocktail party is a great way to get to know prospective clients!

Red and white wine pouring on wood background

Just make sure you don’t kick back too much.  Remember, you’re working not partying on spring break. =)

Couple having fun in disco night club with body tequila party

How To Land A Sale

People want to buy but they don’t want to be sold.

Words to live by for a sales person.  You want to establish a customer base but that takes time.  You have to nurture customer relationships because that’s how you become successful long-term. You don’t want to sell one product to one customer.  You want to sell lots of products to a return customer for many years to come.

But how do you do that?  How many times are you supposed to keep banging your head against the wall, trying to make contact with influencers? Surely a few unreturned voicemails means they aren’t interested, right?

Wrong!

There is nothing personal about a few cold calls and voicemails.  Make yourself stand out if you want to command attention.  That takes a bit of creativity and a lot of perseverance.

So say I’ve got a handbag business.  I want to sell buyers on the quality and marketability of my products so they want to feature the  collection in their stores.

These people get sold all the time, so how do I set myself apart as a newbie designer with no brand recognition or footprint to speak of?

The first step is establishing contact.  Pretty difficult to do as buyers are usually MIA.  But I don’t get discouraged.  I leave a message, introducing myself and my goal. I say I’ll follow-up with an email.  Surprise, surprise, after a week, no return call.

Time to execute phase 2.  I call again, only this time I don’t leave a voicemail. I stalk my prey over the course of a couple of weeks.  But alas, the buyer is still MIA. So I finally leave a message letting the buyer know I’ll be following up with a package including some marketing and press materials and a sample handbag.  I need to create a hook with this package to give the buyer a reason to call me back. But beware, this whole process can get rather expensive quickly so make sure you pick your targets wisely.  Choose the ones where you might have a shot if you’re sending product as a sample.  Make the packages personal – include handwritten notes, unique trinkets, anything to set you and your company apart from the competition.

About a week afterward, reach out again, via phone and email, and so on until you’ve exhausted your efforts or you get a return message.

This process won’t work all the time.  Nothing is ever guaranteed  But if you plan out your roadmap effectively, you have a real chance to make inroads with the people who can put your product in market and help you create demand that will hopefully translate into sales. And then maybe you can land in InStyle magazine too! =)