Before you can begin to sell your product or service to anyone else, you have to sell yourself on it. This is especially important when your product or service is similar to those around you. Very few businesses are one of a kind. Just look around you: How many clothing retailers, hardware stores, air conditioning installers and electricians are truly unique?

The key to effective selling in this situation is a “unique selling proposition” (USP). Unless you can pinpoint what makes your business unique in a world of homogeneous competitors, you can’t target your sales efforts successfully.

Pinpointing your USP

You could analyze how other companies use their USPs to their advantage. If you analyse what they say they sell, not just their product or service characteristics, you can learn a great deal about how companies distinguish themselves from competitors.

For example, the late Charles Revlon, founder of Revlon, always used to say he sold hope, not makeup. Some airlines sell friendly service, while others sell on-time service. The Ritz Hotel in London sells luxury, while Wal-Mart sells bargains.

These companies have a USP “peg” on which to hang a marketing strategy. A business can peg its USP on product characteristics, price structure, placement strategy (location and distribution) or promotional strategy (the old fashioned 4 P’s of marketing and still valid). They are manipulated to give a business a market position that sets it apart from the competition.

Put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
Too often, business owners fall in love with their product or service and forget that it is the customer’s needs, not their own, that they must satisfy. Step back from your daily operations and carefully scrutinise what your customers really want. Suppose you own a pizza business. Of course customers come into your pizza place for food. But is food all they want? What could make them come back again and again and ignore your competition? The answer might be quality, convenience, reliability, friendliness, cleanliness, courtesy or customer service. These differentiators are not just statements that a business owner makes – they have to be real, tangible and acted upon as a core part of the service.

Remember, price is never the only reason people buy. If your competition is beating you on pricing because they are larger, you have to find another sales feature that addresses the customer’s needs and then build your sales and promotional efforts around that feature.

Know what motivates your customers’ behaviour and buying decisions.
Effective marketing requires you to be an amateur psychologist. You need to know what drives and motivates customers. Go beyond the traditional customer demographics, such as age, gender, race, income and geographic location, that most businesses collect to analyze their sales trends. For the pizza shop example, it is not enough to know that 75 percent of your customers are in the 18-to-25 age range. You need to look at their motives for buying pizza — taste, peer pressure, lifestyle convenience and so on.

Cosmetics and alcohol are great examples of industries that know the value of psychologically oriented promotion. People buy these products based on their desires, not on their needs.

Uncover the real reasons customers buy your product instead of a competitor’s.
As your business grows, you’ll be able to ask your best source of information: your customers. Or “shop” your competition instead.

Once you have gone through this market intelligence process, you need to take the next — and hardest — step: clearing your mind of any preconceived ideas about your product or service and being brutally honest. What features of your business jump out at you as something that sets you apart? What can you promote that will make customers want to patronize your business? How can you position your business to highlight your USP?

Do not get discouraged. Successful business is not about having a unique product or service; it’s about making your product stand out — even in a market filled with similar items.

credits: article inspired by Entrepreneur Magazine |

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