“What makes you different?”
“Why should I choose your company over [insert competition]?”
These are the most common questions that are asked by prospective clients and tend to be the most difficult to answer. These questions shouldn’t confound you, nor should they be answered with ambiguity or industry similarity. The question of differentiation is a challenge for any business and industry, but I think it is especially challenging for the professional services industries of finance, real estate and law.
If you find yourself in one of these camps, you are many in number. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 225,000 financial advisors; 1,275,400 accountants; 422,000 real estate agents and brokers; and 760,000 attorneys in the country. Just to put these numbers into perspective, there are 216,000 marketers and advertisers; 55,000 interior designers; 107,000 architects; and 147,000 dentists. You’re swimming in an ocean if you’re in finance, real estate or law and trying to overcome “small fish” syndrome isn’t easy, understandably so when you see the numbers of people sharing your profession.
Here are ten easy ways to get clear on what makes you and your business different so that you can cut through the crowd and stand out uniquely all your own. These are the questions you must answer first so that you can answer the ultimate question of differentiation.
Let’s first start with you and your personal brand. You are in the relationship business, so you yourself are both product and service.
1. What made your last client decide to go with you?
Ask them. Really. And keep asking this question of every client you sign.
2. What do your clients like most about you?
Phrase it however you like, but this is a question you should be asking after you’ve worked together for some length of time.
3. How have you helped a client today/ What problem did you solve?
Maybe you won a case, made a smart investment that performed well, or got your client’s offer accepted… or maybe you answered a question they had or revised their tax estimate at no charge. Whatever it is that you do, big and small, to add value to your clients’ lives is important to note. What you do is more important than what you say.
4. What is it like to work with you?
This question can go along with question #2 and only your client can answer this question. You can definitely not answer this question. You want to make sure you’re providing great service, but don’t lead your client’s answer. Let them answer any way they like and listen carefully.
5. What else do you do for your clients, above & beyond your standard services?
Maybe you do nothing extra, but something tells me you probably are going above and beyond in some ways. Perhaps you share tickets to a concert with them or host an educational or social event. Some of you may act as quarterback with their other trusted advisors or connect them with resources after their engagement with you.
Next, let’s take a closer look at your business brand. You either own your own practice or you operate under the umbrella of a firm or broker.
6. What do your clients say about your business?
What is their perception of the larger business entity? Ask them and deploy some social listening tools if necessary. It’s very important to know what your clients are saying about the brand when you’re not in the room. If your firm has marketing resources, see if they can help you this this question with data and insights.
7. What are your clients’ favorite or least favorite part about being a client?
You have to ask them to know this answer. try not to focus too heavily on the outliers: people that are either over the moon or hating your business. Focus more on the people in the middle who largely go unnoticed and unasked. I think it is wise for firms to develop a way to collect these answers on a yearly basis. When you know what clients like most about your brand, you can make sure you preserve that key element of your business that makes you different, and it may not be what you think!
8. What is most valuable to your clients and how do you deliver that to them?
Do you know what your clients value most? And do not say, “peace of mind.” As a financial advisor, you may think they care about saving for retirement the most (your words), but maybe what they really care about is smarter spending so that they don’t run out of money in retirement. That is a different story than the one you may be telling and could differentiate you from all the retirement planning folks in town chirping about savings, savings, savings.
9. What is one thing your business does that your competitors don’t?
Do you know your competition? Visit their websites, call them on the phone and pose as a potential client. Ask some questions and learn about them the way your potential clients do. Find out what they say makes them different so you can better communicate what makes your company different.
10. Who do you serve?
Who you serve can be a huge differentiator for your practice, especially if you have a niche. In the professional services industries you likely have more than one target audience. That being said, you need to be specific about which target audiences you serve. Otherwise, you sound like everyone else by just talking about what you do versus talking directly to your ideal client. Financial services tends to identify who they serve by financial minimums; that is not a target market, that is a minimum requirement that helps you qualify. Real estate segments by type of buyer: first time homebuyer, short sale and specialties. This is good, except nothing stands out. Law is similar to real estate in that it also segments by type of client legal issue and specialties. Your clients are the heroes of your story. Are you zeroing in on your ideal client or casting that wide net?
Perhaps you have already observed a key element of the questions I have listed above. 60% of the questions posed above can’t be answered by you. And the other questions require a little more thought and research. If you really want to know what makes you different, start with your clients. Their choice of financial advisor, real estate agent or attorney is highly personal. For that reason alone, you can’t speculate these questions in-house and you may find that personality, tone, and culture are also determining factors.
As a professional service, SERVICE may be exactly what differentiates you the most. Not just what services you offer, but how you serve and who you serve.