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Competitive Advantage: Make Your Customers' Lives Easier

15 Apr, 2005 By: Lester Anderson imageSource

Competitive Advantage: Make Your Customers' Lives Easier

The document technology and gasoline industries would
seemingly have little to nothing in common. But if you give it some thought,
both rely on an important concept—competitive advantage.

Living in a metropolitan suburban area, I have nine gasoline
stations within a two-mile radius of my home. If nine vendors sell essentially
the same commodity product in a close geographic area, the one that will survive
will most likely be the lowest price vendor. But all nine stations near my house
endure in the marketplace. Why is this? Part of it is convenience. In the
copier/printer industry this would compare to the dealer who shaves pennies and
mils to get the lowest price.

Some of the stations have service bays. In the copier/printer
industry this is comparable to a dealer who markets other business services. For
those who need those services, the one stop shopping makes it a good choice of

One of the stations I frequent sells gas at a cost of 8-10
cents a gallon more than the others. But it has a "quick mart" where I can go in
and get a very good cup of coffee while my car is filling up. That station
offers me something that the other stations do not. How does this relate to the
copier business?

Let’s face it, to the average customer a copier is a copier.
Twenty years ago, some brands had a much higher perception of quality. Today,
especially for black and white copiers, most people believe they are all about
the same. Some have certain features others do not, but how many people use
them? Most users walk up to the copier, place the paper in the top, press a
green button, and grab their copy.

In addition, you can no longer use the old adage, "We provide
excellent service." Everyone delivers, everyone installs, everyone trains, and
everyone is proactive in service. Or at least everyone claims to be.

So what can you do to give yourself a competitive advantage?
It’s simple, offer something that customers value that your competition does
not—similar to that cup of coffee that I enjoy. One example is remote meter
reading. For a dealership, the competitive advantage is a customer NEVER has to
report in a meter reading on any copier now or forever! It’s a chore that no end
user wants to deal with. Some dealers require customers to report meter readings
to assure accurate billing. Those are the exact dealers who are vulnerable to
rival dealers coming in with a comparable product at a comparable price and
offering this enhanced service or competitive advantage. Use that leading edge
thinking as a reason to close smaller accounts. Tell your customer that their 25
copiers are going to get the same service as a Fortune 100 company.

If meter readings are not enough, proactive network
monitoring of all equipment—newly installed as well as existing fleet—for
operational status and proactive preventative maintenance is another advantage.
If your staffing permits, buy a bulk number of anti-virus program licenses and
offer free installation of the anti-virus on workstations that are going to
print to a MFP.

You want to reduce the time and effort your customer has to
expend. Doing something to make the lives of individuals easier is going to get
you in the door and their attention. And whatever the service is, you do it
while you sell them more copiers and printers.

While I was at Sony Corporation, we always sold value, never
price. Actually, we never wanted to be the low price solution in the
marketplace. Our response on pricing was, "Our competitors may sell for less,
but only they know what their product is worth."

You should offer that something extra in value to your
customer. Your competitive advantage is to do something for your customer that
they would typically have to do themselves. With a little edge like this,
becoming your customers’ preferred supplier will be achieved.

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