Four Ways to Protect Your Turf

Warren Buffett famously invests in businesses that have what he calls a protective “moat” around them – one that inoculates them from competition and allows them to control their pricing.

Big companies lock out their competitors by out-slugging them in capital infrastructure investments, but smaller businesses have to be smarter about how they defend their turf. Here are four ways to deepen and widen the protective moat around your business:

Get Certified

Is there a certification program that you could take to differentiate your business? A Canadian company that disposes of radioactive waste decided to get licensed by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  It was a lot of paperwork and training, but the certification process acts as a barrier against other people jumping into the market and competing.

Is there a certification you could get that would make it more difficult for others to compete with you?

Create an Army of Defenders

Ecstatic customers act as defenders against other competitors entering your market; a factor that has enabled companies like Trader Joe’s to defend their market share in the bourgeois bohemian (bobo) market, despite a crowded market of stores hawking groceries

Get your Customers to Integrate

Is there a way you can get your customers to integrate your product or service into their operations?

The basic switching costs of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software are virtually zero.  Everyone from 37signals to Salesforce.com will give you a free trial to test their wares.

The real expenses associated with changing CRM software only come when a business starts to customize the software and integrate it into the way they work. Once a sales manager has trained his salespeople in creating a weekly sales funnel in a CRM platform, try to convince him to switch software.

Can you offer your customers training in how to use what you sell to make your company stickier?

Become a Verb

Think back to the last time you looked for a recipe. You probably “Googled” it.  Part of Google’s competitive shield is that the company name has become a verb. Now every time someone refers to searching for something online, it reinforces the competitive position of a single company.

Is there a way you could control the vocabulary people use to refer to your category or specialty?

Widening your protective moat triggers a virtuous cycle: differentiation leads to having control over your pricing, which allows for healthier margins, which in turn lead to greater profitability and the cash to further differentiate your offering.

If you’re wondering how differentiated your businesses is, take the 13-minute Sellability Score questionnaire and find out….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Do you have a billion dollar business hiding inside your company?

Asking customers to pay to join a special group of your best patrons can increase your revenue, encourage customers to buy new products and services from you, and provide a healthy boost to your cash flow. Just ask Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com and the chief architect behind Amazon Prime. In exchange for $79 a year, Amazon Prime customers get:

  • Free two-day shipping on millions of items
  • Unlimited streaming videos and TV shows
  • 350,000 books to borrow for free.

It’s a compelling offer, which is why, according to TIME Magazine, more than 10 million people have signed up. If you do the math, that makes Prime close to a billion-dollar business for Amazon. And like most programs, members pay upfront, giving Amazon a big injection of positive cash flow.

But what is even more interesting is what being a member of Prime does to the buying behavior of the average Amazon customer. Prime customers pay their $79 upfront and therefore are eager to ‘get their money back’ by purchasing a bigger and broader array of products from Amazon. With free shipping and a $79 nut to recover, Prime customers go well beyond buying books from Amazon and now get everything from tires to turtlenecks from the e-tailer. According to TIME, the average Prime customer now spends $1,224 per year with Amazon vs. the average non-Prime customer who spends just $505. In other words, Prime customers spend almost three times more per year than non-members.

Most businesses have some sort of loyalty program (buy nine sandwiches and the tenth is on us or get five hairs cuts and the sixth is free). The difference with Amazon Prime is they are charging customers to sign up for their special club and the fact that customers pay to join changes their buying behavior to want to recover their membership fee.

Amazon did not invent the pay-to-join-our-club business model. Private members clubs have been doing it for years. To join an elite golf club, you pay an initiation fee of tens of thousands of dollars, which then acts as a barrier to ever leaving. But as with Amazon Prime customers, becoming a member also changes a member’s buying behavior regarding other items. When compared to someone shooting 18 holes at a public course, the average golf club member is much more likely to buy balls from the shop, lessons from the pro, and dinner from the dining room.

The “AMC Stubs” loyalty program charges moviegoers to join the club. In return, customers get free upgrades on the size of popcorn and drink orders, along with $10 of Stubs rewards to spend on anything in the theatre in return for every $100 spent. AMC’s best customers become even better customers by going to the movies even more often and filling up with goodies while they’re there.

Look at the spending patterns of people who pay a premium to join a credit card company’s loyalty program. Customers who pay upfront for a premium card charge a much broader and deeper set of services to their card than people using a freebie card.

Getting your customers to pay to join your elite customer club requires that you design a compelling offer as Amazon Prime and AMC Stubs have done. But if you build it right, not only will the club itself turn a profit; it will also provide a quick boost to your cash flow and create a legion of sticky customers who buy more because they paid to become a member.

 

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