Setting Yourself Apart From The Competition

It happens in nature between animals fighting for limited food supplies, political campaigns by politicians to win elections, in job interviews by applicants to obtain that desired position, during games and tournaments by teams to emerge as the victor, and in business when two or more parties actively seek the patronage of potential customers. Those participating in the “game” of competition are called competitors. Competition can be extremely tough (even brutal), especially when faced with a myriad of smart, motivated rivals.

It’s easy to get lost in a crowd where everyone seemingly looks the same. Likewise, it’s easy to go unnoticed by prospective clients if you have nothing unique to offer that “the other guy” doesn’t already. To truly stand out as the superior choice, you must set yourself apart from the rest of the pack: you must differentiate yourself. Differentiation determines what separates two products or services from each other in the minds of potential buyers or clients. It's only through successful differentiation that you will garner more business than your competitors and rise above merely surviving in this competitive world, to actually thriving in it.

According to the late Coca-Cola Chairman, Director, and CEO Robert Goizueta, “In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In business, it’s differentiate, differentiate, differentiate.” Wise words, indeed, from the man who helped advance the Coca-Cola brand to become the most recognized trademark in the world.

I can almost hear the backlash now from some of you, “I’m an appraiser; not a salesperson! If I wanted to spend my time selling, I’d be an agent. No thank you! That ‘marketing stuff’ is for overzealous, attention-seeking, abrasively ‘in-your-face’ peddlers. I just want to quietly do my job and not indulge in this type of self-promotion.” Although salespeople might most visibly demonstrate the traits most often associated with “marketing types” (whatever that means), the need to market and set yourself apart is universal; essential for all people who conduct business (no matter what your personality type is or industry in which you perform).

We need to get out of the self-destructive mindset that marketing is the exclusive priority of typical salespeople. Just as competition in nature is as fixed as the law of gravity, so is differentiation an immutable law of marketing. Again, it’s the way the world operates, and to excel in your occupation you have to transcend the mentality of just surviving competition, to conquering it and surfacing as a frontrunner. This is greatly accomplished through marketing.

Before we discuss ways of applying differentiation, let’s first clear up some of the misconceptions (and aversions) some might have. First, marketing is not the same as advertising. Second, it’s not even selling, for that matter. While they're related, they're not synonymous.* Marketing is the process of understanding client perceptions (and at times even shaping them), ascertaining and meeting the market’s needs, and branding yourself as someone who can handle all of this better than your competitor. I know that sounds like a pretty broad definition, but it’s actually loaded with tremendous insight. Let’s look into each segment of the definition a little closer:

  1. Understanding client perceptions: Every time you interact with a client you are engaging in marketing. The tone of your voice when you answer the phone, the ease-of-use and general aesthetic of your website, and the promptness in which you respond to customers are all factors that clients use when formulating their perceptions of you. All of these shape what type of appraiser you are to work with in the minds of clients. Is there an atmosphere of collegiality and amiability, or are you cranky and unapproachable with your clients? Do you “disappear off the face of the planet” once you receive an order – leaving your clients wondering what’s going on – or do you proactively keep them informed on the status? How your clients perceive you will significantly affect how they will deal with you (and if they would care to do business with you again).
  2. Finding out what the market needs and meeting those needs: This requires customer feedback. You can’t assume all clients have the same needs. What's paramount to one might only be peripheral to another. For example, one client might just care about your turnaround time, whereas another might not be so concerned about that as long as he or she is kept in the loop. Another client may only care about your fee, while another might only be interested in having an appraisal that’s undeniably defendable in court. You only know by asking, so ask your clients what they specifically expect from a quality appraiser and appraisal. Then do your best to deliver on that.
  3. Branding yourself as the most excellent choice: In a world of competition, it’s easy to get lost in the endless multitude of comparable voices, all struggling to be heard. To stand out, your voice has to be pronounced, inimitable, and appealing. In some people’s minds all appraisers are the same. But you have to challenge that assumption and give them reason to see distinction with you. What makes you better than “XYZ Appraisals” down the street? What makes the service you provide more than just a utility? Only you can answer these questions. Once you have, capitalize on it and integrate it into your central marketing message. To help you “appraise” and introspectively evaluate your business, we’ve created a worksheet of questions for you to honestly answer. This will help you identify your strengths, weaknesses, and areas where you can grow.

Marketing Awareness Worksheet

Think about these questions and you'll come away with your differentiation and possibly a marketing plan of your own.

  1. In a competitive world it’s often “sink or swim.” Am I currently “sinking,” “swimming,” or just “treading water”? How competitive is it in my local market?
  2. What am I doing to set myself apart?  What are my competitors doing?  Am I doing enough to show clients what makes me different than the guy down the street?
  3. Why is an appraisal from me preferable to an appraisal from my competitor? Imagine you're talking to a client. Finish the following sentence. "My competition claims to ______________________________, but what I offer is better because ___________________." Is this is a point of differentiation between you and your competitor? Are you telling people about it?
  4. What do I offer that clients can’t get someplace else? Is it technology, or customer service, or something in my work product? Am I communicating that clearly in my marketing?
  5. How is my rapport with my current clients?  Am I pleasant to work with?  Do my clients have any common compliments or complaints?  Do I ask for feedback and adjust accordingly?
  6. Do I proactively make attempts to try to find out what my clients’ individual needs are, or do I assume that everyone has the same needs?
  7. How effective are my client communications?  Do I keep my clients well-informed throughout the appraisal process?
  8. What strengths do I perceive in myself and my company?  What weaknesses?  What areas need immediate improvement?
  9. How can I implement the information in this article to capitalize on my strengths and offset my weaknesses? What will I start doing differently, if anything, to start trying to set myself apart and further enhance the services I provide?