Differentiating Amid Uncertainty

 In Mark's Message

After doing my last Mark’s Message, The Black Swan in the Room, I promised that I’d do my best not to reference Covid in the following edition too much (oops I did it again!).  Seriously though, I know that we’re all pretty tired from it all, but the lesson of changing-to-adapt to these “challenging times” is one worth learning, however painful it may be. The background noise in the industry has been very loud since “the pandemic” became the new “how’s the weather today?” – it’s just about all everyone talks about nowadays (ok, maybe the US election too).

The chaos of uncertainty has always been there, just much much louder in  2020.  The longer the current climate continues, the harder it will be for a lot of firms to have their voices heard clearly by their current and potential clients, especially if they are all essentially saying and offering almost the same services as one another.  One area this is most true is in the world of geotechnical consulting.  The field of geotechnical consulting, as you all already know, holds a special place in my heart. Why? Well number one, I know and work with a lot of pretty awesome and super-smart people in the geotechnical consulting world. But the number-two reason is that I know that a healthy and well-functioning geotechnical engineering market ensures a solid foundation, and helps contractors, developers, owners, and architects from being left with huge headaches as it relates to their projects.  The geotechnical engineer is as important and as relevant as ever!

Geotechnical engineering firms, or for that matter construction firms in general, this is the perfect time to look at differentiating your business from your competition. Most of us, and I’ve been guilty of this as well, is that we quite simply “want to get more work!”. Wanting work is all good and well, but what exactly does it all start with? Especially in what was already a super-competitive environment, and how do you truly distinguish your business from the countless others out there? It’s all in differentiating your businesses from others competing within the same space. In its most basic form, it’s being different from the rest, and more importantly, being perceived as more favourably different than other businesses by potential clients.

If you want to win more good work (work that pays enough to feel rewarding) without just lowering your prices to get work, consider creating a full-on differentiation strategy. A differentiation strategy provides clients with something unique, different, and distinct from products or services other competitors may offer within the same marketplace. The main objective of implementing a differentiation strategy is to increase your overall competitive advantage. Differentiation strategies have a lot of advantages that can help you to develop a unique niche within the industry. Here are some of the benefits of creating a clear differentiation strategy:

Less Price Competition: A solid differentiation strategy lets a business better compete in the market with something other than lower prices. For example, a candy company may differentiate their candy by improving the taste or using healthier ingredients. Although its competitors have cheaper candy, they can’t provide the taste that consumers may want from that specific candy company. How does that translate in the geotechnical world, where you don’t make candy, but you do drill boreholes and recommend innovative solutions? Maybe you are the one that provides practical solutions such as ground improvement that no other business is offering, and you just might get a pretty sweet payoff!

Unique Approaches: This benefit of a differentiation strategy is one that it builds on the unique qualities of your “product”. Your company should create a list of characteristics its products or approaches contain that your competitors lack. Those characteristics will clearly differentiate your approach to potential clients and will signal to them that your business is unique.

Consumer Brand Loyalty: Effective differentiation can create brand loyalty in customers if a business maintains the perceived quality of your products. For example, if you have a brand that is marketed by a well-known person or company, it will likely increase brand loyalty because it enhances the value of your brand. But if Karl von Terzaghi is not available (and he’s not, may he rest in peace), then think of other ways to keep your clients coming back to be loyal to your brand of geotechnical consulting, offer better service, better recommendations, and better communication, to name just a few seemingly obvious examples.

No Perceived Substitutes: A strategy that successfully differentiates can present the idea that there is no other approach available on the market to substitute it with. A business can gain an advantage in the market even when there are similar approaches or firms available because customers will not be willing to replace your approach or firm with another one.

Here are some simple things you can do to start:

Be Innovative: Continuously push to improve your client-facing processes to deliver better results to your clients. Every single industry evolves and so should your business. If you offer similar services as the competition, make the way you deliver them or how you work with your customers a unique experience. Always try to get to the solution more efficiently and more accurately than the competition can ever deliver.

Narrow Your Target Market: By specializing in a very specific client niche, you can focus on the skills or services that uniquely benefit that specific client. Being the best to provide a solution to their unique situation enables you to maximize revenue and build stronger customer relationships.

Be Known as The Expert in Your Field: Build a reputation as an expert in your field through every avenue such as newsletters, social media, speaking engagements, etc. People who truly have a problem to solve will want to work with an expert, a thought-leader in the industry.

In closing, there is no magic formula to magically increase your business, it really doesn’t exist. But by taking the time and effort to perform extensive research and by taking a hard look at how you are perceived by your potential clients is the key to see what your business can improve on. Once you’ve done your due diligence and implemented some of the most critical changes needed you can begin building and maintaining your momentum by delivering a unique client experience.

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