In my travels I routinely ask CEOs to identify their “Unique Selling Propositions”. Most often, the response I hear is “superior customer service”. To provide extraordinary service may be germane to the value a company delivers to its customers, but isn’t unique or distinctive. A well thought out USP must convey features that are inherit in a brand and distinguishable from the next.
The USP should feature unique capabilities and motivation for prospects to switch suppliers. In the manufacturing and distribution of tangible goods, companies are seeking out alliances with suppliers who can fill orders just in time, and may even expect their key suppliers to locate close to their facilities.
As it relates to service, a USP needs to translate into some specific benefit to customers, such as a faster cycle time, or higher fill rate. To be courteous, timely, and responsive, is merely the cost of admission. If a company it unable to express a USP that clearly demonstrates its uniqueness, it is unlikely to maintain sustainable competitive advantage over time.
While customer service itself may be a poor USP, service model innovation can be a game changer. Consider the service innovation offered by the App Store (Apple) and The Application Exchange (SalesForce). These sites were amongst the first to offer open source; affording users access to thousands of applications. Ironically, Apple and Salesforce offer little or no service or support for these products.
In an age when commoditization is easy to come by, many companies have difficulty articulating the brand promise and the tangible benefits they provide. For every brand, some effort should be made to create a business case or white paper that demonstrates tangible conclusions such as a total reduced cost of ownership. Value is generally best articulated through raw numeric comparisons (such as ROI) when possible.
Perhaps in service businesses, tangible benefits are less absolute, making the USP dilemma even greater. A myriad of new tools allow companies to better illustrate their points of difference through flow charting and animation (like a comic strip). Online video is practically free, and provides additional color and texture that is hard to capture in text alone. Marketers can be both informative and whimsical when demonstrating how a product or process can be better, faster, cheaper, etc.
Of course it is one thing to know what your USP is, and another to leverage it effectively. Often sales teams do not utilize all of a company’s distinctive features to paint the USP. For example, some companies invest heavily in training technical workers, often by 3rd parties who certify them in a particular skill. Such a differentiating feature may not be pointed out by inexperienced sales people.
So work on that USP, and make sure your business development team can articulate it clearly.