December 17, 2012

Pick Any Two

By Patrick Mahan 

Instant coffee. Instant downloads. High-speed internet. One-hour cleaners. Microwave ovens. Overnight shipping... We live in the Age of Instant Gratification.

Customers want it NOW! They want it better, they want it faster - and unfortunately - they want it cheaper. 

And that puts you in a tough spot. How can you deliver higher quality, faster, friendlier service AND slash your price?

You're already bending over backwards for your customers. You're working 60 plus hours a week. And what do you get in return? Insatiable customers who want a lot more for a lot less.

So what's the answer? How do you keep up with increasing customer demands without losing your mind... and your business in the process?

Unfortunately, there's no magic bullet.  You can't be all things to all people. You can't make everyone happy, no matter how hard you try. So stop trying. How's that for an answer?!

Now you're probably thinking... "That's great. I'll be out of business in less than a week!"

But stick with me. There's a way to work through this dilemma. And it's all about MANAGING EXPECTATIONS.

You can offer the highest quality, but if you do, then you can't offer the lowest price. Or, you can offer the lowest price, but then you can't offer the highest quality... or the fastest delivery... or provide Ritz-Carlton type service.

The challenge is communicating this to the people who want it all... your customers.  

So the solution is managing expectations. What does that mean? It means NOT over-promising. It's means communicating upfront exactly what you can and cannot deliver. It means letting your customers know exactly what to expect from the very beginning. It means positioning yourself clearly in your market.

When you buy jewelry from Wal-Mart, you're not expecting Tiffany-quality. And you're certainly not expecting Tiffany prices. Why? Because Wal-mart manages expectations. They brand themselves as the low price discount seller. You know what to expect when you walk into Wal-mart.

In the same way, when you walk into Tiffany's, you're expecting high prices. But you're also expecting high quality and world-class service (and that fancy, iconic little blue box!). As a result of setting these expectations, customers understand that "haggling" over price isn't an option when buying a diamond ring from Tiffany's.


In today's competitive marketplace, you have to be an outlier. You have to position yourself clearly in the minds of consumers. Are you the cheapest or the most expensive? Are you focused on selling quality or quantity? Are you relationship-oriented or transaction-oriented?

You really have to move toward one end of the spectrum or the other. If you stand in the middle of the road - trying to be all things to all people - you're going to get run over.

Rather than positioning yourself (or your company) as a jack-of-all trades, it's time to become a master of one. Don't make the mistake of diluting your product or service by adding more and more bells and whistles trying to please a wider range of people. Focus on what you do best. Trim the fat. Price yourself accordingly.

The world wants specialists, not generalists. Think about this... cheap restaurants have tons of items on their menus, but five-star restaurants offer a limited menu. Why? Because they know every item added to the menu dilutes the quality of every other item. So they eliminate the fluff and pour their heart and soul into preparing the dishes they make best. Could you apply this same philosophy to your business?

Bottom line... 

You can't be all things to all people. So stop trying. Pick the things you are really good at. Communicate clearly what you can do, can't do and won't do. And manage customers' expectations accordingly from the very beginning.

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