In today’s tough outsourcing marketplace, winning all the business you can is the name of the game for suppliers. Being able to articulate what differentiates your brand in the marketplace is one instrumental way to increase your wins.
However, this is not an easy thing to do. That’s where Brenna Garratt comes in.
Garratt is the CEO of The Delve Group, a NYC-based branding firm specializing in working with outsourcing suppliers. “In the current hyper-competitive marketplace, it’s hard for suppliers to think objectively about what makes their business different from their competitors,” she says. Objectivity, she explains, is particularly tough because the company can be “too close to its business and therefore lose perspective on to how to truly differentiate it.”
In fact, Garratt says the biggest mistake suppliers make in appealing to buyers is “sounding and looking like everyone else.”
Suppliers’ second biggest mistake, according to Garratt, is describing their business in “gobbly-gook” language. She shares a snippet of an extreme example:
We are global leaders in deploying flexible, scalable, integrated best practice client-centric solutions that imbed continuous process improvement and deliver outsourcing or BPO services efficiently and effectively to significantly reduce costs and meet business objectives.
“Obviously this approach is not going to help a prospect understand what makes them different or better than their competition – it’s even hard to know what exactly they do!” she notes.
Garratt suggests suppliers put themselves in their buyers’ shoes. How does a buyer select a supplier when all eight competitors sound and look exactly the same? “They have the same suite of services. They claim they can deliver cost savings. They focus on process improvements. They all have the requisite certifications, etc. These aren’t distinguishing factors today. Now they are table stakes,” she says.
Today outsourcing buyers want that elusive something more.
Garratt says the key to cutting through the clutter is “the ability to articulate what you do in a simple and compelling manner.”
Determining the differentiators
The Delve Group does research to help suppliers see through the fog. First they ask the supplier’s leadership, sales, and account support teams to define how they think the market perceives them. Then they interview the supplier’s clients to ask their opinion, and lastly they review the supplier’s competition.
Once they complete this process, they ask the $60 million question: How deep is the gap between the company’s perception of itself and the marketplace’s view? “It’s important everyone sing the same song,” says Garratt.
Next comes what Garratt calls “articulating the brand.” Her team crafts words and visuals to make sure they match and are truly differentiating. She says some people respond verbally and other visually to brands. “Having both aligned is the Holy Grail,” she says.
How branding helped an HR provider
Mercer’s outsourcing business wanted to refine its brand positioning in order to win more market share. In such a crowded marketplace, it was evident that its products and services were for the most part not much different from their top competitors. “It was clear that buyers were often confused on which outsourcing provider could fulfill their needs better,” says Garratt.
However, after interviewing Mercer’s clients, “we discovered buyers really responded to its straight forward and candid approach to client service and delivery,” says Garratt.
Buyers told Delve that benefits administration “can be a complex business because the nature of the model is there are a lot of moving parts.” The Mercer team told its buyers they “know where the trouble spots are.” They reassured them by pointing out “we will be on top of any problems if they occur, and we have done this long enough to know what to do so you can have peace of mind that we have things covered.” Most importantly, Mercer consistently delivered on this process.
Garratt says Mercer’s buyers “just loved this message.” Even more important for Mercer’s brand, it created “a terrific connection” between buyer and provider. “It made buyers feel comfortable that they had chosen the correct partner,” she says.
Once Delve isolated Mercer’s key differentiators, the company created its message platform. Central to this platform was Mercer’s elevator pitch: “Mercer delivers benefits administration with sleep-tight service.” Garratt says the positioning statement helped unite the company to tell its story easily and more consistently; it was the umbrella message that enabled leadership, sales, marketing, and even operations to speak to,” she explains.
Next it encouraged Mercer to encourage its own employees to submit stories about how they deliver “sleep-tight service” to their clients. “Storytelling is really powerful. It brings humanness to things that are often intangible. People remember stories and therefore they would be more likely to remember what makes Mercer different,” says Garratt.
“Working with Delve and leveraging its proven methodology helped us identify those core attributes that separate Mercer from our competitors,” says Mary Tinebra, global head of sales and marketing for Mercer’s outsourcing business. “Communicating our value in a clear and consistent way enables us to really own a space in the marketplace. We can’t overstate the value of having a universal language to talk about our business both internally and externally.”
The Delve Group made its mark with Exult
Garratt didn’t set out to specialize in working with outsourcing suppliers. She was a VP of branding for a dot-com company that didn’t survive the dot-com bust. But its connections enabled her to meet some principals at General Atlantic Partners. The venture capital firm asked her to work with a new HR supplier it was forming. Her first assignment: naming and building a brand for this new type of company. Exult was the winning name.
William Zinsmeister, a global equity research analyst at Deutsche Bank Securities, wrote in a 2004 report, “For such a small company, Exult has truly built for itself market acceptance and brand. Exult’s market acceptance is most evident when we hear from procurement consultants that Exult is invited (or pre-qualifies) in almost every HR BPO deal opportunity that is out there today. No other vendor can make that same statement, in our view.”
Since then, The Delve Group has continued to work with many other outsourcing providers as well as other venture capital and private equity firms. It has branded over a dozen new companies in this arena in the past eight years.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Journal:
Suppliers should determine what sets them apart from their competitors and then craft messaging around it. Then they need to then use that message consistently.
There are four key steps:
- Determine what makes you different. Find attributes that will separate you from your competitors. These should be things only your business can claim to do or be. Don’t overlook exploring the nuances because in highly competitive industries this is often what will differentiate you from others.
- Back up your claims to be credible. You have to be able to prove you have the experience and expertise you claim to have. You also need to be able to illustrate how you do it and to explain the results it has had for others.
- Banish jargon. After you determine what these unique qualities are, describe them in plain language. Leave the jargon to your competitors. Make it easy for others to repeat them.
- Remember less is more. Have no more than five key messages because people cannot remember more and you want to make it as easy as possible for a buyer to share why you are the preferred choice.
The biggest mistake suppliers make in appealing to buyers is sounding like everyone else.