Posts Tagged ‘USP’
A couple of weeks ago I was asked by another freelancer my advice on the easiest way to expand the functionality and the increase the Unique Selling Point (USP) of a product or service with the minimum of effort. That was a fairly open question (and a fairly big question at that), but it just happens that I had already given the question some thought for one of my own projects.
The requirement is that no matter if you have a product (be it a physical product, a software product on a phone, or a web based application) or a service you provide, it would be great to be able to rapidly expand its scope, functionality, usefulness and therefore saleability with the minimum of effort and cost. But how can you do this?!?
The answer is… integration. By integrating your products and services with other products and services, the scope of your own product expands rapidly to include a lot of the functionality of the other integrated products. Let me explain…
Lets say you have a software product you market which provides office collaboration facilities (storing documents, sharing information, tasks etc). That’s all great, but now imagine you add some code to integrate with some of the cloud To Do list managers such as Google Tasks or ToodleDo. Now when users create collaboration tasks or notifications, they can be sent to the cloud and appear in their Google tasks list or ToodleDo task list systems. But the increase in functionality is exponential – because Google Tasks and Toodledo themselves integrate with other applications, so now your office management application feeds tasks out to the cloud, which then integrates with iPhone or android applications, with more functionality, which themselves integrate with more functions and applications, and so your USP increases with no further effort by yourself.
The same is true for services. If you provide say accounting services, and your service provides the ability to integrate with other accounts services (say a company which does payroll services, or book-keeping or asset management), the bolt-on service dramatically adds content, value, functions and sales value with no effort by yourself. Your USP and sales message is so much stronger for the minimum of effort.
Of course, there are two tricks to such integration…
First, picking your integration or collaboration partners. You need companies, services and products that not only fit with your services and products, but who will themselves integrate out to further increase your reach, but at the same time will not draw your customers away from your original functionality.
Secondly, is to make your product or service integratable. Tempt other companies to integrate to you but developing hooks into your product or service either via software Application Programming Interfaces (API;s) for software or an openness and wiliness to work with people for services. Of course the secret to this is to advertise such API’s and integration openness on your product or service web site.
640K of computer memory is more memory than anyone will ever needBill Gates, Microsoft, 1987
Let me take you back. Way, way back to the early 1980’s. Here in the UK, Sir Clive Sinclair introduced the first home computers called the ZX80 and ZX81, and these computers both came with a staggering, massive, huge, 1k of memory. 1k!!! That’s 0.00009 of a megabyte!! Now with 1k of memory, there was not much you could do, other than to learn how to program very, very efficiently. With that 1k of memory, programmers created chess programs, accounts programs, spreadsheets, games and a whole lot more.
Today, we are spoilt by super fast processors and many megabytes of memory – even on handheld phones. However, this growth in power means that programmers have become lazy – as long as it runs and looks nice, programmers generally don’t care about how fast it runs, how much memory it takes, or how many human actions (mouse clicks, etc) are required to carry out a task.
One of the worst offenders is Adobe with the Acrobat PDF reader. If you want to develop bad software, then follow the Adobe example, and you too can have software which is frankly awful. Just follow the following Adobe steps:
- Have software which takes forever to start, just to view a tiny PDF document
- Because the software takes so long to load, create nice startup splash screens to show the names of the lazy programmers who can’t be bothered to speed up the application by reducing its size
- Have the software so full of bugs, that it needs to be updated every 2 or 3 days
- Now, create an auto updater routine, which runs all the time of the PC, and takes up even more computer resource
- Install the auto updater as part of the core product, but don’t tell anybody its included, just install it anyway
- Even though the software just displays documents, when the auto updater runs, make sure it demands you restart your computer at the end of the install. After all, the updater is more important than the end users other work
- Just in case the users does not want to restart their computer, have a ‘later’ button, but now have the updater remind the user every hour until they are nagged to death
- Whenever an action is required, make sure that the user has to click as many buttons, use as many menu options and press as many keys as possible to perform that action – the extra effort required will ensure they understand the complexity of the software (Microsoft SQL Server Enterprise Manager actually wins the award for the most steps to perform one action).
- Even though other developers create faster PDF viewers that load 20 times faster and are 40 times smaller, don’t ever acknowledge they exist. Just continue to make your original version slower and bigger.
I was chatting with another small business owner a few days ago, and he was confessing that now and again he would cycle through the home shopping channels – QVC, Ideal World, the Home shopping network etc. He was quick to point out that he didn’t actually purchase anything from these TV shows, but he watched them for selling suggestions.
His logic was that channels like QVC invested millions in developing different ways of selling plastic rubbish to cash strapped viewers, and maybe the ideas could be applied to B2B selling techniques.
The idea that he was most interested to try was the “easy pay” system, where the cost of a purchase is divided into 3 or 4 equal payments, with each payment taken out per month. His logic was, if it worked to sell a £50 food processor, it must have an even bigger impact if you are selling £10,000 of IT service.
Now I am not convinced one way or another on the idea of selling a service and including an “Easy Pay” offering. However, it does provide some interesting ideas, including:
- Provide split payments, useful when a company has run out of budget – half in this financial year, half in next financial year
- “Easy Payments” or split payment could be an additional sales option to add to your Unique Selling Proposition
- Splitting payments could make your option appear cheaper that the competition
- If you do stage payments anyway (part up front, part on a stage delivery, part on completion), isn’t this providing the “Easy Pay” option anyway
- Easy pay may make you seem more willing to help companies in this time of financial difficulties
As you may have gathered from the above, I am also tempted to try this option in a few future quotes to see if it makes a difference in conversion numbers. However, if I do, I wont call is “Easy Pay” (this suggests that you think the company can’t pay in full), but I like the term “Staged Payments” or “Managed Payments”
So I might be giving this a Try? But what do you think?
Over the weekend I was chatting with another freelancer and he was asking my advice regarding the concept of the USP – the Unique Selling Point. Despite reading my other advice on creating a USP for his freelance business, he was stuck. He commented that Everybody else was doing the exact same thing as he was, so where was his USP?
Actually, I explained, if everybody was doing the same as him (which I doubt they are anyway, but I let that pass), the answer was staring him right in the face – do what they won’t.
Regardless of the business type, there are things that we all have to do to make business and money. Most of the time, these are all bolt-on’s to the main service. Now whilst there is good money to be had for charging for these services, if you are really struggling to create a USP, why not make these items part of the service? So ideas may be:
- If others charge travel time, travel expenses (a few pence per mile) and meeting time, include these in your prices
- If others charge for the initial consultation and meeting, include these in your prices
- If others ring fence their service and wont touch certain things (“I don’t do user documentation”), make yours a full service and do the other work
- If others refuse to meet with clients, go to the meetings
- If others don’t like to do handover visits or user training, make the effort and make this your USP
- If others take all the money up front, make yours invoiceable at the end of the project, 30 days net – so time to pay
- If others lock source code, SQL procedures and other products to retain copyright, offer an Intellectual Property Right Transfer
- Where others don’t make the effort, go the extra step, and make this your USP
Careful thought and budget/pricing management is required to get your money for the work, but a USP does not have to be the latest wiz or bang – it can be just doing something that others won’t – and so saves somebody a headache.
Of course, as a small or freelance business gets more customers and so a stronger story, the USP can evolve to be more about your products and skills. But when stuck on the initial USP, the ‘can do’ attitude is a good starting USP point.
So are you still having a battle with trying to work out the Unique Selling Point (USP) of your product, your service or indeed you as a freelancing or contracting individual? If so, you are not alone. In a recent survey by PCG (professional Contractors Group), over 82% stated the concept of a USP as their biggest hang-up. When you consider it, having a USP is so critical to business success, but so difficult to come up with.
So here are some tips about finding your USP:
- First of all, you need to understand that whilst a Unique Selling Point gives you a great headline on why somebody should select you or your product, most other products and people will also have a USP. Having a USP is just another view into your credentials – it can never make every sale yours, as other peoples USP will be just as strong – so don’t get hung up on that
- Your USP is your value add – its what you or your product brings beyond what is required as a bonus. Typical USPs for freelancers may be your experience, or your knowledge, or extra services you can offer, connections you may have, your method of working, things you can provide free such as reference information, extra steps you are willing to take, or delivery times.
- USPs are never about being the cheapest, newest or most sold services or products
Your USP can combine a number of factors. However, it should not be so complex as to confuse the prospect or provide a fuzzy message. When you create your USP, it should include 3 areas:
- The title or the product or service you offer
- The area or market you provide this service or product to (very specific here)
- The position of your product or service in the market, and what makes you unique – the heart of your USP.
So examples of a USP statement, combining all of the above might be:
Product or Service : I am a freelance data specialist….
Area or market : … that works with small manufacturing companies in North London.
Position/USP : My 16 years of IT and data experience in a manufacturing environment, together with my extensive contacts list of manufacturing suppliers allows me to optimise data for best return on manufacturing spend.
One of the concepts that is most likely to have any small business owner scratching their head is the concept of USP: Unique Selling Proposition (or Unique Selling Point). The Oxford English Dictionary defines a USP as:
A unique set of characteristics or features for a service or product, which can be used to differentiate an item from a competitor’s equivalent offering to provide a competitive sales advantage.
Business books are very good at telling the small business owner that as part of any sales or marketing activity it is vital to identify the USP for a service or product, but offer little guidance on how this can be accomplished. Whilst the method of identifying a USP will vary from service to service or product to product, the following steps can help you on this rather complex business process.
Start with what it the same
As a starting point, make a list of everything your service or product has, that is also present in your competitor’s equivalent. By creating a list of the similar attributes, it allows you to set these aside to identify the differences.
Assume that people will assume
When a customer is presented with a unique view, people will imagine the items which are not explicitly stated. As an example, if I were to advertise a hotel, situated in a pleasant country setting, with indoor swimming pool, spa and 5-star restaurant, you make a lot of assumptions. You assume you get a room, a bed, a TV in the room etc. Why waste the space on what every hotel has unless these features are part of the uniqueness (such as 4-poster bed, in room fire etc).
Ask Other People (including Customers)
If you have existing customers for your product or service, ask them what the unique features are and why they selected your service or product. There may be things that you have never even thought of. If you don’t yet have customers, ask friends for their view – it’s always useful to have an outside view of the situation.
Avoid the watered down USP
In todays over saturated marketplace, it is far too easy to treat customers as idiots, and assume that they will fall for watered down qualities or features. Throw away terms such as “100% guaranteed” or “Cutting Edge” mean nothing and are unlikely to be a USP when everybody else is saying the same thing. Avoid such phrases to leave space and impact for the true USPs.
Create a new USP
One of the tools that big companies use is to create new markets, features and USPs for their product. Hair products are especially good at this; when did shampoos move from being basic hair cleaning products to complex beauty products with pro-biotic complex serums? Create an impressive term for your product as a USP, but be cautious of using something so complex, people struggle to understand it.
I have read many blogs and heard many podcasts which talk about having a USP (Unique Selling Point) – or other such terms, and have always struggled with this concept. After all, whatever it is that we do, there will be lots of other people doing the same thing, so trying to find a USP that works, has been difficult.
However, I was re-reading a book called 101 ways to grow your business over lunch at a customer site (whilst I was waiting for a data transfer to run), and noticed that they were speaking to another supplier on the phone, who was treating this customer very badly – supplying products that were not up to spec, treating them badly on the phone, and not behaving in what I would view a professional manner.
Just so happens, in this 101 ways book, there were a few sections about going the extra mile, and providing good service – and I always try to do this, so I have created my USP – my service guarantee.
Have to say, when I created this, printed it up, and put it on my company web site, my wife thought I was mad, but at the end of the day if I provide bad service, people are not going to pay me anyway, and she has now come around to my way of thinking.
So I present to you, my USP – my service guarantee, which (lifted from my web site) is as follows:
Touchstone Systems provides the following guarantee on all its products and services:
• We Guarantee that any deliveries will be on time and within budget as agreed by both parties or we will make up the difference
• All products and services will be of the highest industry standard. If you disagree, we will correct the situation at our own cost.
• If you still feel that the service/product does not meet the agreed specification, we would not expect you to make final payment
• When meetings, appointments or deliveries are scheduled and agreed, if we don’t meet the agreed times, you don’t pay
• We will provide regular status reports (each day for short projects, weekly for longer) on progress of the work by email or where you prefer, by phone.
• If we provide a product and after all of this you still don’t like it, return it within a month and you don’t have to pay
So, what’s your USP?
Its one of the motos I also keep in the back of my mind with every business decision I make. After all, no matter what type of business you are in or service you provide, there will always be somebody else who can do it faster, cheaper, closer to the customer or a dozen other reasons why the work should go to them and not you.
At the same time, being a small business owner/manager, you cannot possibly have the economies of scale or the corporate presence that major corporations or retailers like Oracle, Microsoft, PC-World or Amazon has. Their publicity pound, Euro or dollar goes a lot further than yours.
You cant (and shouldn’t) try to beat the chap in the far off land who is willing to work for a stupidly low rate, neither can you try to complete with one of the big boys, who can bring 12 executives to each and every meeting simply because they can afford to. So where does that leave you?
Well that leaves the 2nd option – to get Niche.
Niche is finding your own Unique Selling Point (USP); the thing that you can do that others cant, the product that you have that very few other people can offer, the service that is better than the big or cheap boys because you care or it’s the only area you work in, or the extra value that you add which Mr Cheap or Mr Big wont want to. Without that Niche aspect, you are another fish in the feeding frenzy, and there is always a bigger or quicker fish than you.