Blueprint Book Excerpt: Playing the “Why Should I Choose You?” Game
“The appendix in our book has many examples of phone calls we made to companies, asking them “Why should I choose you?” Below is an excerpt from the book with some of those conversations. Maybe these conversations reflect your experience in trying to get clarity from a supplier about a product or service they are selling. If a customer calls your company and asks “Why should I choose you?”, will they be left with the same confusion?
We wanted to test an idea. We were looking at an ad for a car company in the paper that was for a single model, not its whole line of cars. Across the bottom, seven local dealers were listed. We realized this gave us a perfect opportunity, because we could conduct an experiment in which all the conditions were identical except for one variable: the dealership. We picked three that were an equal distance from us, knowing that a dealer’s first line of differentiation is how close you are to them.
We called up one of the dealerships and explained to the salesman who answered the phone that there were three dealerships within a short distance of us. So, all things being equal, we wanted to know why we should buy a car from his particular dealership. To our shock, he said quite indignantly, “In 26 years in this business, I have never been asked that question!”
Was he kidding?
He wasn’t! We were shocked by his response for two reasons: first, that a simple, reasonable question would make him so angry. And second, that he thought he had never been asked that question before. What he didn’t realize was that he is being asked that question in every single interaction he has with a customer, whether in conversations at the dealership, talking on the phone or devising marketing and advertising designed to lure and close buyers.
You could laugh off his response as a misguided answer, but the reality is that we heard the same thing over and over again from people in companies large and small who are responsible for selling products and services. “Oh, I’ve never been asked that before“ is how we usually heard the answer, but mostly in a polite tone of voice that suggested this was a novel but irrelevant question.
The next dealer we called was interesting because he started an argument with himself in trying to answer the question!
US. Why should I by this Lexus from you?
HIM. We have the best service department. No, wait . . . all of our dealers have great service departments.
HIM. We have the best customer service. Actually, all of our dealers have great customer service.
HIM. We buy all of the daily newspapers, we have the best selection of magazines and we serve the finest coffee.
HIM. The truth is, if I had a good answer to that question, I would be the top salesperson in the country!
We had to admire his honesty . . . and empathize with his frustration.
Let’s see if a high-end brand car brand can articulate a compelling reason to buy its cars.
US. Why should I choose you over another brand?
HIM. It’s probably one of the most amenable [sic] products. For performance, luxury and driver experience. Scheduled maintenance is covered for four years. It’s the best warranty in the industry.
US. So what am I getting for the money I spend?
HIM. Value, luxury brand, solid design, and the fit and finish. There’s a 12-year warranty on rust.
US. What would you choose as the number one thing about BMW?
HIM. Road manner. The handling and it’s easy to drive. Performance and power, you can feel it in the turns, it sticks to the road. Why you should choose us: drive it.
This high-end car is a mythical brand. There is a romance to it that goes far beyond being a transportation device that gets you from point A to point B. The magic of this brand is all about how it makes you feel and how it feeds your sense of self-identity. It is a badge that you proudly wear when you drive this brand and it broadcasts to the world a status you have achieved. None of this is captured in the salesman’s answer to our most basic of questions: “Why should I choose you?”
So can anyone answer this question for us? Let’s look an airline.
US. Why should I choose you over another airline?
HER.(after an uncomfortable pause). Uh, my system is down and my computer is being rebooted. It may take a few moments. I’m going to put you on hold. (About three minutes later, she returned)
HER. Depends on the price. You have to find the price of other airlines.
US. So aside from your prices, is there any other reason to choose your airline?
HER. You can make your reservation and hold for 24 hours while you check prices. The service with us is comfortable seats and big planes. There is more choice of seats and the seats are bigger and more space.
US. The benefit of flying with you is that you have better seats?
HER. Other airlines provide less [i.e., lower] price. But then they give you a bench to sit on top of for ten dollars.
None of the answers given above by the airline reflects the totality of the travel experience and where the flight fits into the larger context. For instance, if you are going on vacation, the flight could be the beginning of reconnecting with your family, relief from the stresses of work or experiencing a new adventure in an exotic location (or all of the above). The airline is delivering you to this experience so, considering the larger context, there is much more to the flight than just comfortable seats or lower prices. The airline is a partner in something that is essential and enjoyable in your life, yet its sales narrative reflects none of these important elements. If it did, you may be less concerned about the few dollars you save with airline A versus airline B because you feel like airline B is going to make your vacation experience so much better.
We were buying laptops for the office. The first company we called used to have one of the most unique and compelling value propositions in the technology business: buy over the phone and what we save in avoiding the huge costs of supporting a retail sales channel, we will pass on to you. We called the toll-free number and explained to the salesperson that we knew very little about buying computers and asked why we should choose his company over a multitude of competitors.
He said that they listen very carefully to our specific needs and then custom-build computers from scratch, just for us. “We don’t just send you a computer that has been sitting on the shelf for months,” he explained. “We build one fresh for you.” We didn’t realize that, like melons, “freshness” was important to the purchase decision, but we thanked him for what seemed at the time like a great answer. We let him know that we would call back if we were going to buy from him.
We then called two other computer companies and asked them the same question—and got exactly the same “custom-built computer” response as we got from the first company. So we phoned back the same salesperson at the first company and told him about our experience with the other two companies. We explained to him that we felt stuck in the same place we were in when we started: we didn’t know how to choose a supplier because they all seemed to offer the same thing. There didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to choose one way or another.
So we threw the ball back into his court and asked him again why we should choose his company. Here is how that conversation went:
HIM. Ask your friends.
US. But you are the person who has been specifically trained to explain to us why we should buy from your company.
HIM. (after a long, uncomfortable pause). The screws we use to bolt our components into our computers are stronger than anyone else’s screws.
US. Is that it?
US. Okay! We will call you if we’re going to buy.
Two Serious Problems in Almost Every Organization
In each of these examples, you could argue we got the wrong person on the wrong day at the wrong company. While this is true in theory, the reality of our experience is that we talked to over 100 companies, from the biggest of the multinationals to small entrepreneurs, and not one of them could give us a clear and compelling answer as to why we should choose them over their competitors.
One of two serious problems exists in all of these examples. Either the company doesn’t have a compelling answer to the question “Why should I choose you?” or it does but the answer can’t, for some reason, permeate its way throughout the organization. How can this be? We know many of these companies as some of the biggest, most sophisticated and successful companies in the world, yet they can’t answer a question as basic as “Why should I choose you?”
Should they care, especially if they are making sales? Should you care? There is one compelling reason why you should care: it makes sales come faster and easier.
After reading this, if you are concerned about what impacts a lack of clarity might be having on your organization, please take our Clarity Test. Click here for more information on our book, “Why Should I Choose You? (answering the most important strategic question in business in 7 words or less).