How to Stand Out in a Crowded Industry

Kevin Freiberg tells NSCA BLC attendees about the importance of differentiation in a world where customers think most integrators are interchangeable.

NSCA research finds that four out of every five integrators believe they’re unique enough that potential customers can tell the difference between them. The sad truth is, though, only about 8 percent of customers know the difference from one systems integrator to the next.

So, if you want to remain in the 92 percent of integrators who customers view as basically the same, that’s certainly a choice you can make. If you’d rather stand out, though, heed the words of Kevin Freiberg from the 2016 NSCA Business and Leadership Conference.

“Setting yourself apart takes guts,” he said during his keynote session “Create Distinction and Differentiation.” “Being ‘special’ means customers can’t live without you. What makes you unforgettable? Would you be missed if you went away today? You can’t be a leader by playing Follow the Leader.”

The statistics from NSCA’s research should scare the heck out of integrators who believe what they do is different than the company down the road, across town or on the opposite end of the world.

“If your customers can’t make a compelling argument for what makes you different, you can’t claim to have differentiation,” said Freiberg. “It doesn’t matter what you think .You have to innovate and differentiate or perish. If you’re going to differentiate, you have to embrace a culture that’s hungry for change. It’s important to ask whether your changes will be opportunity-led or crisis-driven.”

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Differentiation can only truly come when business leaders decide they’re willing to learn something new and try something they’ve never done before, said Freiberg.

“If you’re not willing to learn, no one can help you,” he said. “If you’re passionate about learning, though, no one can stop you. We’re living in a world of unprecedented access and exponential reach. Are you personally equipped to live in that kind of world?”

The expectations of customers have continued to grow over time, said Freiberg, and that means the expertise of systems integrators has to get stronger too.

“I’m not looking for a vendor. I’m looking for a guru,” he said. “I want someone who knows so much about my business, they can tell me what my business needs before I even know I need it.” Freiberg cited CI 2015 Integrator of the Year Yorktel as an example of a company with a model that features that sort of anticipatory approach because it leads with managed services in its sales pitches.

Freiberg urged audience members to “question the unquestionable.”

“The more important something is to you, the harder it is to let go of your cherished beliefs,” he said. “In a world moving as fast as systems integration, that’s a very dangerous approach. Do you have the guts to ask ‘why?’ Are you willing to question consultants and train your employees to be leaders?”

Integrators must continue to evolve their approach to sales, competing on relationship over price, said Freiberg.

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“Put the ‘R’ back in CRM,” he said. “One size fits one. This is not about technology. This is about culture.”

Business leaders must have their radars on and antennas up, said Freiberg.

“You can’t give me a world-class experience if you don’t know me,” he said. That includes “courtship after marriage,” said Freiberg.

“Good salespeople are constantly tilling the soil to find new opportunities,” he said. “There’s nothing more powerful than a referral. Innovation, change and transformation are hard and offer you no guarantees. You have to be willing to risk more and fall faster to gain more.” That includes being willing to “reward intelligent failure” by allowing employees to test their innovative ideas to see what happens.