"Why should anyone buy from us?" is probably the most fundamental question in business.
It cuts through the fancy Mission Statement, bypasses the Key Performance Indicators and gets to the real value proposition from the viewpoint of the customer.
Answering this question requires precision.
It is easy to take the soft option of offering generalisations such as "our products are better than anyone else's" or "our people provide better service".
These responses are vague, unverifiable and come from the organisation's perspective instead of the customer's.
Examples of better responses would be precise measures of performance that matter to the customer, such as:
• "we are 12 per cent cheaper than the next closest provider of similar quality" or;
• "our customer feedback results indicate 95 per cent would do business with us again even if we weren't the cheapest provider because of our superior service levels".
In a perfect world, the perfect people to have answer this question are your customers.
If your relationship is strong, their insights will be invaluable. You could even give them some information about the inner workings of your business so they have a greater appreciation of your challenges as well.
If your world is imperfect, then look for others to provide input such as employees, suppliers, Board Members, even academics interested in the forces of competition.
As a simple exercise, write the question on a board or whiteboard in your office and ask everyone who comes in over a one week period to write one answer.
By week's end you'll have a rich list of ideas to synthesize into a few short statements that capture your uniqueness in the market. The responses will help decision making - what to start and stop doing, what unique competencies exist in the business and where the major weaknesses lie.
“Why should anyone buy from us?” is such a simple question that it can connect with everyone in the organisation. Sometimes the jargon of corporate strategy causes employees to disengage.
This question will be understood by everyone. Just brace yourself for the answers you receive.
They may not be pretty, but they will be valuable.
Dr Shaun Ridley FAIM is Deputy Chief Executive Officer (Learning and Development) at the Australian Institute of Management in WA. His extensive experience in leadership, strategy and learning and development has been gained through his work with hundreds of organisations, across all sectors both domestically and internationally.