Ah, middle school. I can’t honestly say I remember all I learned during my middle school courses – I can’t, for instance, recall the formula for photosynthesis or the capitol of Arkansas offhand. I do remember, however, Venn diagrams. I remember working with classmates to figure out what we had in common to place in the overlapping sections.
Those three circles conveyed a lot of information in an intuitive, visual way. Its simplicity was –and is!- disarming. Here, we have these things in common; there, we have these things that are unique.
Earlier, I talked about the importance of understanding how dentists make decisions. It all comes down to winning your customers’ choice. Dentists make decisions that impact your success. It is necessary to understand what factors impact those choices before you can strategize to influence them.
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The best way to do this is (surprise!) to ask them. Obtaining insights directly from dentists about their decision-making allows you to visualize your opportunities from their viewpoint (which is arguably the most important viewpoint!). Their perceptions (which drive their behavior) determine whether or not our strategy will be successful.
Simple Tools For Complex Problems
Ultimately, it comes down to 9 simple words: Be different from competitors in ways important to your customers. Like the Venn diagram, it sounds simple but can be complex in application. The best way to develop a strategy to accomplish this principle is by viewing your market in one of those beloved Venn diagrams.
The yellow circle is your customer (in this case, dentists). The overlap between what dentists value (yellow circle) and what you provide (blue circle) represents the value you provide to dentists.
This is important information, but, let’s be brutally honest – we exist in a constant state of competition. It doesn’t only matter what value we provide – it also matters what we provide that our competitors do NOT. Therefore, it’s crucial to ask dentists how they perceive our value and the value of our competitors (red circle). This way, our strategies build our competitive advantage.
Armed with these three circles, you may realize that much of the value you provide is matched by your competition. In other words, the value you provide is not actually a competitive advantage.
To make matters worse, you may also find that your competitor is providing value that you do not. This can serve as a wakeup call. Now you know where you can (and should) improve, creating a sense of urgency to develop strategies that strengthen your competitive position.
Let’s look at this simple example. Say a dental equipment company that wants to increase sales to its current customers, dentists. However, this company has a direct competitor with a similar offering. The company talks to their customers, conducts its customer research and obtains the following results. Here, each of the colored zones provides important information about how dentists make decisions, and therefore carries important strategic implications.
Looking at these results, there are two key questions to ask:
- What can we do to build and defend the factors in our green zone? (Our competitive advantage!)
- What can we do to neutralize factors in the orange zone, our competitor’s advantage?
Green Zone – This is what it’s all about! This is your competitive advantage! Your strategy should be centered on building and defending factors in this zone. “Knowledgeable sales reps�? falls in this area, so how can you continue to build upon this strength? How can we move other factors into the green zone?
Yellow Zone - This represents your customer’s unmet needs. These could be opportunities to correct what customers are dissatisfied with or innovate new solutions around unmet needs. “Onsite training�? falls into this area. What can you do to differentiate your offering with regard to this need?
Purple Zone – This area represents what you AND your competition are both offering but customers do not value as much. These two factors could potentially be areas where you could decrease your focus. Interestingly, “low price�? falls in this zone. Often, we think that customers make decisions solely on price, but this shows that there are many other factors that are actually more important when choosing between offerings. Therefore, a price cutting strategy is unlikely to bear fruit in the long-term.
Red Zone – This area represents your competitor’s points of low value. As you determine the best strategy for growth for your dental company, this section might be an area where you potentially leverage and exploit value that your competitor thinks is important but isn’t. For example, your competitor is perceived as more likely to “offer discounts,�? but let them have it – it’s not important to customer decision-making and will only harm them in the long run!
Gray Zone – This zone represents points of parity between you and the competition. These are the important factors that you both deliver. You’ll want to differentiate yourself or, at a minimum, at least maintain these attributes that customers have come to expect. Here, dentists perceive both of you as having the latest technology. If you actually have features or benefits above and beyond what the competitor offers, it’s in your best interest to improve your marketing to raise awareness, thereby moving this factor into your green zone!
Orange Zone – This displays your competitor’s competitive advantage. Knowing this information gives you the tools to neutralize their advantage by attempting to change customer perceptions regarding the value of these factors. In this example, dentists perceive your competitor as having better technical support. What can you do to either increase the awareness of your own tech support or decrease the perception of the value of the tech support they offer?
Now you have the key insights necessary to build a strategy. The next step is for your team to determine which factors are the easiest to impact and have the greatest potential for return, building these into your strategy to grow sales of your product to dentists. This method keeps your team focused on initiatives that will drive value for dentists.
When you understand how dentists make decisions, you can develop strategies to influence their decision-making so that more dentists choose you.
The true test of whether or not you have really changed a dentist’s perception is time and results.
Growth strategy is a process, not an event. Today’s competitive market requires an agile organization that is constantly innovating, capitalizing on new opportunities, and evolving with their customers. High performing organizations continuously assess their performance and changes in their market.
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When you win more competitive advantage, you have to continually work to keep it. You must be relentless in your pursuit of growth. This requires ongoing measurement of the impact of your strategies - how your competitive market is changing and how your efforts are resonating with dentists. Ongoing customer conversation allows you to capitalize on opportunities quickly (before your competition) and make real-time adaptations to your strategy to achieve your vision.
In today’s market, whoever wins the customers’ choice, wins.
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By learning what impacts your dentists’ decision-making and their perceptions of you and your competition, you obtain actionable intelligence to build a formidable advantage.
This is what we at Vennli do, and why I get up in the morning. I’m competitive by nature, and these type of insights clearly illuminate the path to victory!