BLOG: Want more business? Differentiate your offering.

Brockville, Ontario — April 9, 2014

Two life-affirming facts were reinforced for me during my vacation to the Dominican last week. If donuts are available in a breakfast buffet, I will eat them without hesitation. Also, if you’re going to compete successfully in a diverse marketplace, you need to be able to drive value by differentiating your offering.

My wife and I had only one excursion on our mind when we booked our trip to Samana Whale Watching™. Samana Bay is the proud host to migrating Humpback whales, who take advantage of the warm waters to mate before heading home, which is almost exactly the same thought-process as most of the people on my plane.
 
One might imagine that there are any number of proprietors offering bookings to go see the whales do their thing. Time was of the essence, and after sifting through myriad choices we were down to a couple of contenders: a multi-boat provider connected to and approved by my tour operator, or a local gentleman with a fifteen footer who may or may not have been related to the dude that tried to sell me a time-share.
 
On the face of it, both options were offering the same service: get on the boat and we’ll see if we can show you some whales. Although the larger operation offered only marginally better odds on avoiding sea-sickness, they promoted several important differentiators: they had a proven track record, back-up boats, trained and multi-lingual staff, communications equipment to leverage sightings from other boats in the area, and rum. We chose the larger firm, happily paying a 50 percent premium.
 
Some shops I’ve spoken to over the last fifteen years would quickly relate to the solo operator in my scenario. He was, I was told, perfectly capable of doing the job, had all the right tools, offered attractive prices, and yet he didn’t win the job because his service didn’t differentiate itself meaningfully. Price alone doesn’t determine value and can’t always win the day.
 
Sadly, some shops want price to be their trump-card. Time and time again, I’ve had shop owners show me estimate comparisons of jobs they lost to big “preferred” shops down the road; jobs the other shops won despite writing what appeared to be more expensive estimates. When I asked what the smaller shop was doing to differentiate themselves to win that business, the short answer was usually “I wrote a lower sheet, didn’t I?”
 
Clearly, there are unique dynamics at play in the collision space. DRP programs, dealership/OE programs, and MSO/Banner buying and advertising power are just some of the challenges facing shops. On the other end of the scale, there will always be people coming through your door who only care about getting a rock-bottom price, even going so far as to ask if they can buy the parts themselves to save a buck. 
 
Those challenges are real and they aren’t going anywhere any time soon, but they aren’t insurmountable. One key to earning your fair share of profitable jobs is to accentuate your value proposition by highlighting your differentiators.
 
Sit down with your most trusted staff and make a list of the key advantages you can offer a customer, advantages that set you apart from your competition. Maybe it’s the loyalty, experience and tenure of your techs. Maybe it’s key endorsements from well-known people or organizations in your community. Perhaps it’s the ongoing training and certification you and your staff engage in. Do you have a new piece of equipment that’s ahead of the curve? Do you collect, monitor and act on CSI or Net Promoter Score data? Write these differentiators down, memorize them, and brag about them in a way the highlights the strengths of your team without denigrating your competitors, if you bother to mention them at all.
 
If you can’t come up with any differentiators, then you should ask yourself why. Collision repair needn’t be seen as a commodity. Modern customers are increasingly savvy in making their purchase decisions, yet they often make those decisions on an emotional level; play to that by trumpeting what makes you better. After all, if one shop is as good as the next, they might as well choose the first one they see in the yellow pages.
 
Getting the keys can be a challenge. You can’t and won’t win every job, and you’ll occasionally find yourself taking discounted jobs to keep the gears moving. That said, unless you want to marginalize your business by competing on price alone, one of the best favours you can do yourself is to take an inventory of what makes you special and different. Then, make sure your prospects get the message.
 
About halfway through our whale-watching experience, the solo-operator passed our slower boat. The folks on his craft were much closer to the action than we were. His boat was nimble enough to immediately get to a new spot when a mother and calf breached the surface of the waves, while our boat needed much more time to reposition. Everyone on the other boat had a great seat, as opposed to ours, where fifty people swarmed from side to side whenever someone thought they saw a head pop out of the water. 
 
Had those differentiators been properly communicated key differences as to how his offering could be a better match for what I was hoping to experience he might have had my money, and I could have avoided witnessing an outbreak of mass sympathetic sea-sickness. 
 
Art Lane is the owner of Three Q Analytics, providing software sales, training and support. He also blogs for Collision Repair magazine on topics of interest to the collision repair industry. Please note that all blogs on collisionrepairmag.com solely reflect the opinions and views of the blogger in question, and do not necessarily reflect those of Collision Repair magazine, its parent company or staff.
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