How unique is your Unique Sales Proposition?

04 June 2015 by Charles Howden

When we are working with clients to map out their (usually) complex value propositions, we are often asked “but what’s our USP?” Which usually generates a puzzled look from me. Not because I’m not aware of what a Unique Sales Proposition is, more because I’m surprised that anyone still expects to have one.

For a business operating in an established business sector, the chance of being truly unique with their proposition sits somewhere out in fantasy land. It isn’t going to happen, and if it does, how long does the lightening market speed of replication take to catch it up, and replicate it. We are all living, experiencing, and benefiting from the immediate sharing of ideas and processes. Using the best patent lawyers in the World, and with all the financial resources available to them, how long did Apple manage to defend their first (ish) to market tablet proposition? Samsung released their me2 offering within 26 weeks.

People still buy iPads, even though they are not unique (make that ubiquitous). They buy them for all sorts of other values-based reasons. Why do you use your chosen accountant? Because they are unique? No, my guess is you use them precisely because they are not unique. You use them because you trust them to look after your financial affairs, and you like the way they do that. You probably have relationships with the people you deal with at that business. All of which are truly unique to that business, and hard to replicate. And if you found an accountancy company that did offer you a genuine USP (suggestions on a postcard please), would you immediately move your business to them? My guess is not.

The thinking that supports the desire to have a USP can also be flawed. Having a USP does not remove the necessity to have a proficient sales process. It does not guarantee a constant steam of customers who will buy without the need to also be sold to. The selling still needs to happen; having a USP will not provide a shortcut to this.

The good news, and it is good news, is that the uniqueness that successful businesses create increasingly comes from the “how” they deliver their propositions, through their systems and their people, not the core product or service. And delivery really can be a differentiator, and is hard to replicate, especially when it relies on the quality of the interactions that staff create, and the culture that supports their delivery.

So rather than spending time searching for the chimera of a Unique Sales Proposition, we prefer to focus attention on looking for evidence sources to demonstrate the quality of the delivery process. Because when sellers can communicate this, for (often) intangible service components, they really can sell a business’ uniqueness.

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