August 29, 2014
As a custom fabricator, you need to establish contrast—that is, why a customer should choose your company over others. You establish contrast not with generic platitudes, but by specifically addressing customer pain points and describing how you can eliminate them.
For many metal fabricators, the market is crowded with competitors, many of which are trying to outmuscle everyone else by slashing prices to secure contracts.
As an added challenge, many large customers are taking advantage of both increased competition and their large-scale buying power to dictate lower and lower prices, squeezing margins and stifling profits.
To ensure your survival in a tough marketplace like this, your management approach needs to include a strong competitive strategy. It needs to set your company apart from your competitors to make it crystal-clear why your customers should choose you, even if you’re not the lowest-priced competitor in the marketplace.
One of the best places to start creating this competitive advantage is in the conversations you have with your customers. This includes conversations across all of your sales and marketing channels, such as your website, sales calls, marketing collateral, proposals, and request for quote (RFQ) responses. These conversations are often where your relationship begins, and it’s important to lay the groundwork early. Otherwise you’ll end up in a position of undifferentiated powerlessness, with your large customers handing you a list of prices in a boilerplate Excel spreadsheet.
Consider the following hypothetical example. How many times have you seen paragraphs like this on a website, brochure, or even in a sales presentation?
ABC Fabrication specializes in sheet metal fabrication. We deliver both fabricated components and fully finished products to meet the exact specifications of our customers. As your fabrication partner, we offer you expert manufacturing, delivered on time.
This makes your customers tune out. Why? It’s not particularly compelling. It’s mostly made up of generic platitudes, and, therefore, it’s not at all relevant to your customer’s individual situation. So what do you need to make your marketing and sales messages more compelling and relevant to your customers? And how can you make sure they inspire action, not just lukewarm interest?
One answer lies in a concept called contrast. Contrast is created by the difference between what is and what could be, by the gap between your customer’s present situation and its future situation, once it’s been changed by your products and services. Contrast is also where your true value to your customer lies.
Let’s look at the example mentioned previously and transform it using contrast:
Are you struggling with increased production costs, schedule delays, and missed delivery dates? If you’re overlooking critical design for manufacturability requirements when you create new product concepts, these three problems may become your reality.
What if you had an experienced team of metal fabrication engineers to review your designs long before they adversely impacted your production runs? ABC Fabrication’s experienced engineers will work closely with you to correct potential design issues—before they cause problems. We’ll help you reduce your fabrication design costs, create more robust products, and achieve improved schedule performance with your customers.
In this example, the contrast lies in the difference between what is—higher product costs, schedule delays, and missed delivery dates—and what could be: reduced design costs, more robust products, and improved schedule performance.
The contrast between those two states creates value. It shows your customers how their world could be better with you in it. This value gives you an edge over your competition. It gives your customers a reason to choose you, one that has nothing to do with lowering your prices.
However, if there’s no contrast, as in the first example message, there is no value. There’s no perceived difference. As a result, your customers won’t understand what you’re offering above and beyond other metal fabricators.Consider another example:
Before. ABC Fabrication has the engineering experience and expertise needed to deliver fabricated components and fully finished products that meet or exceed specifications on time and within budget—every time.
After. As industry lead-times get shorter and shorter, are your design cycles keeping up? Or are you falling behind, with design changes costing you money and delaying your production runs? What if you had a single point of contact who was committed to providing you feedback on metal fabrication design and costs within four hours? With our Ask an Expert service—included in every ABC account—you’ll have access to a dedicated engineer who will answer your questions within four hours. Together, we’ll help you shorten your design cycles and create a more predictable production schedule.
In the “after” example, you can see how ABC is establishing its value to its customers by pitting “design changes costing you money and delaying production runs” against “shorten your design cycles and create a more predictable production schedule.” ABC’s customers clearly understand the difference between what they’re currently experiencing and what they could be experiencing, and they know who can create that difference: ABC Fabrication.
Contrast not only creates value in this situation, but it also creates urgency. By bringing their problems to the forefront—in this example, rising costs and unpredictable production schedules—contrast helps potential customers see why it’s important to choose ABC and choose them now.
In other words, you can use contrast to demonstrate why your customers simply can’t afford to delay their decision to use your products and services. As a result, you’ll inspire action, which translates to closing more contracts and closing them more quickly. However, without contrast, your contract could sit on a procurement manager’s desk for days or weeks as he or she ponders the competitive field.
Of course, messages need to match your services to meet your customer’s needs, and certain customers may not welcome design assistance, but they still want to reduce risk. In this case, you can also use a compelling industry fact to add contrast to your message. Let’s look at a second way that ABC can create contrast and spur its potential customers into taking action:
Leading industry research indicates that many OEMs churn through a third of their vendors every year, which puts your business at risk for cost overruns of up to 50 percent, not to mention significant start-up challenges and schedule delays.
At ABC Fabrication, we include a Risk Reduction Plan in every proposal we create. This plan pinpoints and reduces any potential snags in your project from start-up to completion, and we’ll create this plan for you even before you reward us the contract. Let ABC prove to you that we’re the right fit for your project by showing you how we’ll mitigate any potential risks, saving you time, frustration, and cost overruns of up to 150 percent.
In this case, ABC is creating contrast by pointing out the risk that many manufacturers face by switching vendors and offering their solution, a precontract Risk Reduction Plan. Its customers might not even be aware of these problems, but once ABC has brought them up and offered a solution unique to the fabricator, its customers’ world will never be the same, and they’ll need ABC to make it right.
Bringing your customers’ problems to their attention may feel like delivering bad news. It might even make you feel a little uncomfortable, especially if you believe that your job is to keep your clients and prospective clients happy.
However, if you don’t use contrast, your competition will. Someone other than you will get your customers’ attention. Your competitor will show your customers something they didn’t know or reveal a problem they didn’t know they had. In other words, someone else will be able to steal your customers’ attention away from you by creating contrast and urgency. If anyone is going to offer your clients an insight, it should be you.
If you still feel discomfort with the concept, realize this: Your customers will thank you. If you point out a way to save them money, a method to make their distribution systems more efficient or a tool to reduce inventory loss, for example, they’ll thank you for it. After all, as you’re uncovering these problems, you’re also introducing solutions.
To create contrast, focus on three elements:
1. Pain. What is the challenge your customer is facing? This is their world without your solution—the current “what is.” The best way to answer this question is to ask yourself, What would our customer be experiencing in the absence of the value our solution provides? These are the symptoms and indicators that let the customer know it is experiencing a problem. This is your customer’s present situation, and this is the base from which you will build contrast.
Consider again the previous example; you’ll find the pain in bold: Leading industry research indicates that many OEMs churn through a third of their vendors every year, which puts your business at risk for cost overruns of up to 50 percent, not to mention significant start-up challenges and schedule delays.
2. Gain. How does your offering solve the problem for your customers? This is the “what could be,” their world with your solution.
In the previous example, the gain is found in these two sentences: At ABC Fabrication, we include a Risk Reduction Plan in every proposal we create. This plan pinpoints and reduces any potential snags in your project from start-up to completion, and we’ll create this plan for you even before you reward us the contract.
3. Value. This is the crucial final piece. What is the impact of these changes? Without this piece, your customer may not care. For example, if you say your services reduce waste by 2 percent, it might not seem important—until you calculate that out to a savings of $50,000 per year. When you discover the difference between your customer’s pain and gain, that’s the value that you offer. The more specific this number is, the better.
The example above seals the deal with this value: Let ABC prove to you that we’re the right fit for your project by showing you how we’ll mitigate any potential risks, saving you time, frustration, and cost overruns of up to 150 percent.
This three-part formula will work every time to create urgency around your customers’ problems through contrast, helping your sales team get your customers’ attention, close more deals, and help your company grow its bottom line.
Waging a competitive war based on price isn’t sustainable for any business, and it’s too risky to have a sales strategy based just on networking or friendly relationships. If you want to equip your business to ensure that it not just survives but thrives in any economic situation, you need to build a strong competitive strategy.
Within that strategy, contrast is a powerful technique to use in your sales and marketing conversations to give your company an edge. It creates value around your products and urgency around the problem, which give your customers a reason to consistently choose you over your competition. It also gives them a reason to sign that contract with you today, shortening your sales cycle, ensuring a consistent flow of new customers at profitable prices, and driving consistent revenue that will sustain your business now and into the future.
The FABRICATOR® is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971. Print subscriptions are free to qualified persons in North America involved in metal forming and fabricating.