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A recent issue of Entrepreneur magazine included a marketing story with five important questions all business owners should be able to answer about themselves and their competition.

Understanding these five critical areas will help you better develop and implement your marketing plan, and sell more to your customers and prospects.

1) What does my customer buy?

My clients know I am a big believer in the principle that customers don’t necessarily buy what we think we’re selling. (Al Lautenslager, owner of The Ink Well in Wheaton, Illinois, and co-author with Jay Conrad Levinson of Guerrilla Marketing in 30 Days taught me this approach many years ago.) The classic example is people don’t buy drills they buy holes. Similarly, they buy thrills, not NASCAR tickets. They buy vision and image, not eyeglasses. Memories, not vacations. Community, not five dollar cups of coffee at Starbucks. Fairways, not Calloway’s Great Big Bertha drivers with strong flex, low torque and a high kick point.

Success Handler Action: After you finish reading this E-newsletter, take some time with your team to write down examples of what your customers buy. Is it printing and copying, or communications materials? Business cards, or self-promotion items? Shipping, or convenience? Technology education, or kids’ futures? Medical products, or feeling good about herself again? There could be multiple examples in your small business. List as many as you can. For the remaining questions, take a few moments after each one with your team to brainstorm answers.

2) What does my customer consider value?

Price is only a number, arrived at by market demand, gut feeling, or, in the case of some car dealers, extensive haggling and customer frustration. Value, on the other hand, is a fair exchange for something received. In the case of a college education, it’s knowledge that leads to a career. At Walt Disney World® Resort, it’s entertainment and magic. With the Sunday newspaper, it’s information and coupon savings. What is it in your small business?

3) Why is my product superior to my competition?

This answer typically runs the gamut from better materials, to longer warranties, to state-of-the-art technology. The cliché, of course, is “our people”; but can everyone really offer the best customer service? In your business, is it faster turnaround? Better design? Compassionate and caring atmosphere? Highly educated teachers? Professional product packers? What is the “one thing” you do better than anyone else?

4) Why do prospects buy from my competition?

To answer this one, you have to do some work. Call a few folks who didn’t accept your quotes, and find out why you missed those sales. Blind shop your competition, and see what they’re offering you didn’t know about. At your next networking event, ask people which of your competitors they use, and why. Then ask them these three questions: What do you like most about your current provider? What do you like least? Is there anything they don’t offer you wish they did? With this information in hand, you will be ready to look for growth opportunities and recognize threats that could change your business model.

5) What does a prospect need to be convinced of to buy?

Anyone who has taken sales training knows that there are many steps in the buying process. Closing is an art, and some are much better at it than others. Yet, in its simplest form, your prospect must reach a “Eureka Moment!” when everything clicks, and she realizes she would be absolutely crazy to do business with anyone else but you. What is it that triggers that moment? Is it understanding all the benefits of your product/service? Recognizing value? Having the time to focus on what you’re offering? Overcoming the fear of changing suppliers?

Competitive advantages could and should change with time, and a competitive advantage is not a product or service; its an intangible that adds value in the perception of the customer. Although you may think your products/services are not commodities, to the customer they often are just that. In the customer’s mind, you’re just one more project to move off their desk and on to someone else. With commodities, the value lies outside of the products and services. To truly have a competitive advantage, you have to ask the right questions that uncover critical issues important to your prospect. Those are the intangibles that make the difference in getting the sale.

Success Handler Action: After working through all five questions, spend some time with your team discussing areas where your organization needs improvement. Make sure everyone understands what turns your prospects into customers. Look for opportunities to define your business, and for ways to grow sales by capitalizing on your competition’s inefficiencies.

When you get right down to it, the best value in the world may be the postage stamp. Despite all the post office jokes, where else can you get so much for just 37 cents? Stick a commemorative stamp on an envelope, and you can send a letter across the country in a matter of days. Stick that same stamp in a drawer, and it may quadruple in worth in 30 years.

With that in mind, always remember people don’t buy postage; they buy delivery of birthday wishes, mortgage checks and, unfortunately for the rest of us, those never-ending credit card offers.

Copyright © 2004 by Success Handler, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Coach, David Handler, is the founder of Success Handler, ( and specializes in helping small business leaders, franchisees and franchisors find clarity and take action. He understands the challenges of running a business, because he’s been there – as a small business owner, franchisee, franchisor, corporate leader and trainer. Much like sports coaches, his coaching will show you how to compete on a level playing field in your industry.

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This Financial Services article was written by David Handler on 8/19/2005

A recent issue of Entrepreneur magazine included a marketing story with five important questions all business owners should be able to answer about themselves and their competition.Understanding these