Why should I do business with you?
A phone call I received this morning reminded me of a question I once read from William Taylor’s blog; he’s the founder of Fast Company, that great business/ entrepreneurial magazine.
The question: ‘Why should I do business with you?’ is perhaps hands down, the most thought provoking inquiry for which every entrepreneur should have a ready made, passionate answer.
This brings me back to the phone call I received this morning. As I sat crawling in a traffic jam that was longer than Rumpunzel’s hair I answered my phone and on the other line was an entrepreneur who said he wanted to sell his services as an art connoisseur to one of my clients, a new hotel who is just about to open for business.
He would view the spaces the hotel offered, consult with my client to decide the themes for each room and of course connect us to the various artists who could interpret the theme visually.
Alas, that was my interpretation of what he was saying because during our conversation he was hardly that clear. The voice on the other end instead was rambling, inattentive (he asked me the same question over and over again) and couldn’t get to his value proposition quickly enough. I told him we weren’t interested and perhaps he could call me back early next year.
My mood as I disconnected my cell phone was somber. It’s not that I meant to be tough, or demanding but I figured if you can’t tell me why I should be doing business with you in the fist 2 minutes our conversation then you’re wasting my time and yours. This brings me to back to where I started with William Taylor and what has to be my favourite entry on his blog.
Here, Blake relates a story of a consultant whose firm conducted thousands of "mystery shops" and interviews with front-line employees at retail banks. During those visits researchers always asked bank employees this simple question: "As a customer, why should I choose your bank over the competition?" And two-thirds of the time, he said, front-line employees had no answer to that question-they simply "made something up on the fly."
Amazing isn’t it? I am not sure how any business can expect to outperform the competition when their own employees can’t explain-simply and convincingly-what makes them different from the competition? This question isn’t just for bankers or even large businesses. It is applicable to small business owners too. Gary Hamel, the influential strategy guru at the London Business School, makes the case that most companies, in most industries, suffer from a kind of tunnel vision: They chase the same opportunities that everyone else chases; they miss the same opportunities that everyone else misses." The point is many entrepreneurs can’t sell their idea or their products and services simply because they can’t answer the most thought provoking question they may ever be faced with.
The traffic in which I was tangled allowed me time to ponder on some of my favourite businesses, one that who I patronise time after time because they offer something unique and best of all they know it. They include the fishmonger in the Port of Spain market who sells not only the freshest tuna steaks but makes a spectacle of his fish cutting talent, or the people at Haggen Dazz in Maraval where scooping ice cream takes on new meaning, or Continental Airline whose staff are so apologetic and kind if flights are late that you forget how angry you are. Sure these goods and services are eclectic but with all of them, their value proposition is articulated clearly to me.
So ask yourself, as you think about growing your company, why should anyone buy from you? What makes you different? What do you have that you want others to see?
The bank employees Blake asked couldn’t answer those questions very convincingly. Can you?