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5 Keys to Competitive Differentiation in the Digital Age

Can you name a product/service/industry that hasn't been revolutionized by the Web or Internet or the Cloud or that is on the verge of being disrupted? It is no secret it is tougher to compete than at any other time in history. Ideas are shared and poached in an instant, new competitors hungry for your customers are coming out of the woodwork and from around the world. Leaders are being toppled daily and new kings anointed Social media is the new media and search but it is so full of horror stories and many don't understand it.

So what is the answer? The key is fighting fire with fire. Leverage the Cloud to fight back against competitive pressures and leverage the Web as a tool to find out what the market needs, on a quarterly basis.

5 keys to competitive differentiation in the Age of the Internet:

1) The only constant is change. Make innovation a key part of the DNA of your company, starting today. Don't just do things to do something 'on the web' or on Social Media until you know what you are doing. The first step in innovation is to have processes and tools in place, with adequate training of employees that each one is a stakeholder and quarterly innovation discussions are going to be based on customer requests and what your peers are saying is the next innovation in you industry. In short, first listen to what the market has to say and then plot your answer to the market. Remember the goal of innovation is not to reinvent the wheel, but make quarterly iterative advancements in product/marketing message/service and make it a habitual act to track and report and discuss your results. Don't forget everything will be a commodity at some point due to the ubiquity of the web and that knowledge is shared instantly, globally. This is a great leveler and means that small innovations that differentiate you in a certain fashion to a certain market segment defines a discrete campaign that you can get behind, or not. Finding key marketing messages and offerings take many iterations, so it is what is required in today's business climate. And, it's the FUN part of the business. When employees and customers feel like their suggestions are being tracked and debated and at some point decided upon whether to act or not is a powerful weapon in the innovation process because it makes you partners instead of an "us against them" attitude that is now outdated.

2) Empower employees to share the information they need to serve the customer at any time, from anywhere. In today's word connecting the customer to employees and letting employees have real time access to customer information is something that the customer has already come to expect. Today's businesses, even SMBs should have a Cloud or SaaS Customer Relationship Management system or CRM that has real time sharing of the right information, for the right eyes only, and pushed to employees and customers on an in intelligent, work-flow driven real-time alert system. These systems are maintained and hosted by the vendor and updates are included multiple times a year so innovation on how to connect and manage the business leads, contacts, accounts opportunities, etc is part of the DNA of the right software vendors. It is a surprisingly hard thing to find and end-to-end suite of solutions that manage your business from Lead through the Closed Sale process, with Quotes, Contracts, Billing & Invoicing, Project Management, Inventory and HR in one system, per-integrated out of the box. Salesboom is the only one with this unique combination and also affordable for even the SMB customer.

3) Be a curator of knowledge for your peers - employees, customers, partners, investors. You don't have to create the content to be a curator of knowledge. Having a quick goto for all the different contacts and accounts you deal with is a time-saver and an anchor of knowledge that makes everything easier on everyone and shows you know the industry and your customer. Listening to your peers on Social networking for many businesses is an essential step to research on what is next in the market and how you can differentiate your business by having a message and training already in place for your new innovation.

Twitter is an excellent resource to follow your peers and make lists of Twitter users that you can save to your list in order to keep track of, or curate information on vendors and resources that you are involved with. Then other Twitter users can see the lists you have created, thus sharing in your knowledge. If you have a list called suppliers, then in there you would find all your suppliers, and so on. Beware of listing your customers or partners if this is sensitive information you don't want your competitors to know about. You can just follow them instead of adding them to a list in that case.

Listen first and post lightly until you get the hang of it. Don't try to be funny until you are a pro, or you will end up offending someone and running the risk a PR nightmare. Fill out your Linkedin profile and join groups and listen before your participate. Once you feel confident enough to post something, then try and offer insight into things you have learned in your years of experience and answer frequently asked questions you get from customers and answer common pain points you know they are having. Don't be over boastful or you will look like a spammer. Post valuable information that is of benefit to your peers - IE customers, partners, employees, investors, suppliers, etc.

4) Be timely and relevant. Being relevant comes from good innovation and employing the above each quarter, and training employees and customers to participate. Being timely means making a marketing calendar ahead of time that you know you want to do based on the calendar. Being timely also means deeply understanding your Web Lead to Closed Sale processes, your Support processes, e Commerce processes, etc so that you can have the CRM help automate the aiding of customers and allow them to self- service interact with your company from your website, mobile device, via email, etc.

To create a good campaign that has a message that will resonate, try to first create the message as a twitter post - IE refined so that it can be expressed in 140 characters or less. Then, create an expanded description of the campaign that explains the details. Create the Campaign in the CRM and upload all deliverables as attachments. Create a web form in the CRM to allow users to sign up. Make a Landing page that has one call to action such as to sign up in a web form to get a call back from your company. Use this landing page to allow sign up to a web form and to be included in a Drip email campaign. You will need to create email templates that will be sent out using Drip Marketing Campaigns that send out emails with mail-merged fields that speak directly to that specific lead/contact. With Drip Marketing campaigns you set up a schedule that, until interrupted, sends out emails on a per-defined schedule. The purpose is to allow for self-service opt-in to your email campaign, and unless they opt-out, they will get emails helping them to make a decision and update them on next steps.

Drip marketing can be setup to be overwhelming and spammy, so beware and take care to create a schedule that is not too many emails. Also, don't rely on drip campaigns as a substitute for telephone or face-to-face meetings as this is the only way to close deals and solve problems. Drip marketing can, however provide a great back-up reminder system that makes sure your customers get timely and relevant information, on a self-service basis.

Implementing timed-based work-flow rules that trigger at the right times to send out an alerts is a power move. With Salesboom you can create Time-based work-flow rules that wake up and check every so often to see if anything has changed about your customer database and you have setup to trigger and alert you. This way the system is always looking in the background and not relying on an employee to login and click buttons in the CRM to trigger the work-flow rules. Salesboom is intelligently works as your assistant and can send email alerts, SMS messages, have a pop-up reminder appear in the user screen, create a task, whatever you need in order to make sure people are notified as to the next step.

5) Create those killer go-to reports, graphs and KPIs that sum up each quarter what happened in your business - the good, the bad and the ugly. This is the answer to your question about how to differentiate yourself. If you have the reports with real time data at your fingertips you can check it daily, weekly, monthly but once a quarter make it a point to see how you can change your business, or message to better educate the customer just exactly what you have done to make sure their problem is not a problem with you.

It is simple to add custom fields in your Cloud CRM to track the information you need to make executive decisions. These fields will be filled in self-service from your web forms, they will be filled in by employees logged into the CRM, they will come in as and API update from integration with third party software, the key is that you can customize the CRM to store all the information, across the organization in one spot.

Continue to refer to these reports, add new fields and the market changes and build new reports to keep ahead of the curve. This way you will put yourself in the position to be timely and relevant. Instead of reacting to situations, you are prepared for them and have your message already in place. Not just this time, but every time your customer/employee needs the relevant and timely message to better serve the customer.

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