Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on September 10, 2023.
I often write about how to become the preferred provider of products and services to your market. A preferred provider is the business that everyone wants to buy from versus its competition.
Whether a business sells autos, groceries, clothing, bikes, hardware and construction supplies, computers or raw materials to a manufacturer of industrial products, it wants to be the preferred provider of its products.
Whether a business is an Internet service provider, a hospital or physician in a group or individual practice, an attorney, a realtor or a roofing company, it wants to be the preferred provider of its services.
Being recognized as the preferred provider is a huge competitive advantage. Depending on the situation, the preferred provider can charge a premium for its products and services.
So, how do you become the preferred provider in your market? You differentiate yourself from your competitors. You give your customers or clients a great experience and exceed their expectations. As a preferred provider, you will tell a customer, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of it,” and follow through. By doing this, you earn your customers’ trust and loyalty.
Preferred providers treat their employees with respect and as valued assets. They help employees develop a sense of ownership in what they do. They attract and retain employees by paying competitive compensation and benefits not only within their industry, but also when compared with an individual’s alternative options of where they can work.
To quote Richard Branson, co-founder of Virgin Group, “Clients [customers] do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients [customers].”
My preferred provider of bikes, equipment and repair services is AAAA Bike Shop in Ventnor, NJ. The proprietor is Mike Wiesen, who goes out of his way to provide a great customer experience. He always meets or exceeds my expectations.
Years ago, I told Wiesen I wanted to switch from a hybrid bike to a road bike. He asked whether I was a leisurely or a serious biker, the distance I usually rode and the type of handlebar configuration I would be most comfortable with—drop down or flat.
He lent me two bikes to try out. After making my choice, Wiesen ordered my new bike. I have been back many times for maintenance and repair work, which is always prompt and done right the first time. I also have recommended AAAA Bike Shop to my friends and purchased bikes there for my grandkids.
My preferred store at which to purchase hardware goods in Margate, NJ, is Colmar True Value Home Center led by Tom Collins. The store is staffed by knowledgeable employees who help customers choose the right product, and provide a better experience than at the best known national brand stores. Colmar True Value is always packed with customers.
I asked Collins why his store is so successful. He replied, “We meet/exceed our customers’ expectations and train our staff to provide a great customer experience. We treat our customers like we ourselves would like to be treated. I teach our staff to be problem solvers. I tell them if you come to me with a problem, also suggest a solution. We talk it out and might find a better solution because we had that conversation.” Collins sets the right tone at the top for his employees.
Over the years, Collins added a UPS store within his Home Center because he recognized there was no location close-by from which people could ship packages. He also added a kitchen/bath design showroom to meet the needs of customers who are upgrading their homes. Both additions were welcomed by customers.
The CEO’s tone at the top and the culture they nurture determines the attitude of employees toward the company’s customers. When I was CEO of PQ Corporation, our culture was focused on helping our customers be successful in their businesses by providing emergency weekend delivery service and the industry’s best customer service and technical service in the use of our products. We strived to make it easy for customers to engage with us.
I was once asked if I could combine the above principles into a universal statement. I responded, “Treat your employees and customers like you would like to be treated. Lead your employees like you would like to be led.” Do this, and you are on your journey to become the preferred provider in your marketplace and enjoy increased market share and bottom line results.
Stan Silverman is founder of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.