Would your last big prospect say you separated from the crowd on value?
Let's imagine being that decision-maker for a moment. You are an HOA President, an industrial facility Engineer, a medical campus Director. Every decision is both opportunistic and endangering; produce maximum value, at best price, with least risk - or else. Decision time is here. The public walkthrough knocked out a few tardy vendors. A few more left during one-on-one Q&A's realizing the job was beyond them. After a lack of acceptable references released a last few, six bids are now left, and you begin to analyze. Conveniently, all six are the region's best / leading / largest provider. All are "dedicated to service"; have "over X years" in the industry; specialize in your market vertical; provide a "complete portfolio" of services that can "handle it all"; bring the "highest value"; are "solution-minded"; and the scopes of work and pricing seem to be relatively close.
If this imaginary story is raising your anxiety and naming off your "advantages"... perhaps your value differentiation might not be so different. (Good news: It's fixable.) In reality, there are only four types of competitive advantage, and - news flash - marketing is not one. Advertisements are meant to close appointments; advantages are meant to close sales.
- Differentiate on Innovation: No one else does what you do yet.
- Differentiate on Separation: You have concrete data showing superior excellence on the same service(s).
- Differentiate on Consolidation: The "one neck to wring" advantage, or "one call to solve it all". Sometimes prospects simply want less partners to oversee.
- Differentiate on Price: Other than innovations, or gains in efficiency, it's time to be the cheapest, and in the race to zero profit everyone loses.
In most markets landscape and snow removal are not just available but expected, so #1 is out. Also, in any high population market with multiple large competitors, or when you are a younger company that can't yet do "everything", commonly #3 is out. Thus the important realization: Our most easily controlled competitive advantages are either Separation - higher quality - or lower price, and most of us would rather not be known for the latter.
Analysts often say, "You find the right answer by asking the right question," and this provokes the right question: "How can I drive quality in my landscape/snow business?" Here are Ten Traction Points to get you going - for best results, done in the order listed!
- Leadership First - Standards you declare but don't demonstrate rarely happen. Total leadership consensus is required, and expect to regularly, healthily revisit this value.
- External Benchmark - In everyday operations, "This is how we do it," tends to dangerously slip toward, "This is the best way to do it." Find outside sources to fact-check your standards and your math.
- Internally Define Success - Being on a team that knows it's winning is intoxicating. People love knowing their efforts matter and love seeing it directly drive results. But... defining success also means defining failure, and not everyone will want to step up to what it takes; lead with health and coaching but willingness to let bad apples go.
- Communicate The Standard - Talk about it. A lot! Every captain's meeting, team meetings with management, quarterly reports... "Vision leaks", they say, so keep pouring it on; quality is a core value now, and everyone needs to know it.
- System Centralization - Teams who cannot see where they are seldom end up where they intended. Costing, estimating, scheduling, and reporting must merge together. This helps successes know they are on-track and to "stay the course," and it gives errors a chance to course-correct while there is still time.
- Accurate Bidding - Bad bids mean operations are set up to fail from the beginning. They feel like a rigged carnival game - either no one wants to play, or - worse - to "win" people have to "cheat" usually, cutting corners on quality!
- Measured Production - Which teams consistently beat their budgets? Who is taking unauthorized overtime? These numbers matter as the owner; they need to matter to your teams. Capture performance on a company-wide level - successes and failures.
- Reporting Mechanism - With performance captured, now we talk about it! Take time to celebrate your winners and invest in your lower-performing teams. Winning together requires willingness to talk about where we aren't winning and why. It's okay to fail, but "fail fast" and learn from it - or, go fail somewhere else.
- Quality Audits - Field teams act differently when random site checks and photos show up at weekly team meetings. They really act differently if you start showing up at their sites a few times a week for random inspections. (To soften the edge, keep some ice-cold Gatorade with you to give out to teams who are doing a great job. A 24-pack costs you less than even one over-budget labor hour.)
- Champion Celebrations - Regularly highlight teams who are outstanding at quality and excellence of work. Not only is this great for morale and loyalty, it might spark just a touch of healthy competition from people wanting their moment in the sun.
These are all internal plantings intended to harvest the external result of reputation. Remember: Reputation is performance-awarded perception; you can just as easily be known for unfinished business and under-delivered promises as you could be known for superior quality. We want to be seen as the best. Maybe we are not as cheap as the guy next to us, but may we be known for delivering a superior value too good to pass up.