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  • Writer's pictureDennis Sullivan

What Nordic walking poles can teach us about one of the most profound business dilemmas today

Most business products and services are a commodity. Your buyers are a click away from finding something very similar elsewhere. So what can you do to create value and separate your business from your competitors?

When a business owner calls me, the conversation usually goes something like this…

“I hear you may know a thing or two about marketing. So, what can you do to help us increase our sales?”

“What are you selling?”

The owner explains the product or service and will often add the following, “I just don’t get it. I see our competitors selling more than us and we have a better product. We should be killing it! What can you do to help us increase sales?”

It’s a logical question every business owner often asks. But I often encourage clients to stop thinking think like alchemists trying to come up with an elixir that will make everyone stop buying from a competitor like magic and suddenly buy from them. Instead, they should be asking a very profound question…

“What can we do to add value?”

It’s a very simple question that forces you to put yourself in the shoes of your prospects and shift your mindset so that you think about their wants and needs – not your need to sell more. It even works for walking sticks. Seriously! The challenge is a valuable lesson about one of the most profound dilemmas in business today.

An entrepreneur I met recently asked me for advice to increase online sales of his Nordic walking poles. As we talked, I quickly learned that the poles have a rich history with various designs, lengths and strengths depending on how much shock and absorption is required. Who knew there are so many different types of walking poles! He became an expert while researching various Nordic walking poles for his mother and began importing them from Norway to sell online.

But I also quickly learned he wasn’t adding any value to his products. He offers very little guidance for customers about how to go about selecting the right pole based on the type of walking exercise they are doing, how often they are exercising or whether they are walking on paved paths, walking trails or rocky terrain. Each requires different types of poles. Yet, he is assuming (wrongly!) that customers already have the information they need and are just looking to make a purchase.

His product is a commodity. He is simply competing on making sure he has the right product in stock at a low price! So, I encouraged him to think more about how to add value for his customers.

“You’re an expert on Nordic walking sticks,” I explained to him. “You’ve done all the research and you know the various poles people can use depending on the activity they’re doing, the terrain, and the strength of the sticks. How can you use your expertise to add value?”

Some suggestions I offered are:

  • Create a video showing how to choose between different types of walking poles.

  • Capture stories from customers about how they use the poles in different conditions.

  • Explain on your website what to look for in a walking pole based on various types of walking.

Stories really do sell! The stories of customers using your product or service to achieve their goals are powerful testimonials that simply can’t be duplicated. Turn your customers into heroes! Too often, business owners make themselves the hero of their own stories. Your customers should be the hero – as a result of taking advantage of your expert guidance and purchasing your product. The guidance you offer can set you apart from your competitors and add value for your customers. As you do, you will become a trusted expert for advice. You will no longer compete on just price. People buy from people they like – and they like people they trust!

People buy from people they like – and they like people they trust!

People buy from people they like – and they like people they trust!

Add value and you can build trust. Interestingly, this approach also separates you from your competitors on Google. Websites that include helpful guidance, instruction and tips rank higher on Google searches than those that are simply listing products or service. Check it out yourself. Search “Nordic walking poles” on Google and you will quickly notice that the sites listed first in the organic search are those that add value.

Now, search a product or service you offer on Google. How are your competitors adding value, so they rank high in the organic search listings? How can you add value?

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