Unique Core Differentiators - with Rich Durkin
Session Moderator: Good afternoon everyone. Hope you all are off to another successful week. Today, we are happy to welcome Rich Durkin with Results Accountants' Systems.
Before we get started, remember that this is your workshop. Our online format allows you to ask questions just like you would at any other type of seminar. So, feel free to jump in at anytime. If, for some reason we skip your question, don't worry. I'll be collecting questions and we will make time for them at the end.
Session Moderator: Before I hand it over to Rich, are there any questions? Tell me what you think Unique Core Differentiators are?
Paul Dunn: Essentially those things that make any client go 'My God, I have NEVER seen/experienced anything like that before.' How's that for openers?
Session Moderator: That's great, Paul. Anyone else have another description?
Persy Munshi: Anything about your product or service that makes the prospective customer/client want to buy from you vs. anyone else.
Session Moderator: With that, I'll turn it over to Rich!
Rich Durkin: Let's get going. My name is Rich Durkin and I'm a Professional Development Consultant for Results Accountants' Systems, we help accountants like yourselves provide business development services in their firms
You may have heard of Results Accountants' Systems, we usually go by RAS, which is short for Results Accountants’ Systems, and that's how I'll abbreviate us (RAS) from here out.
The topic of this chat is on Unique Core Differentiators, and we'll abbreviate those as UCD's. Has anyone ever heard of Unique Core Differentiators (UCDs)?
Susanna Jessup: No.
Michelle Kaye: No.
Fred S.: I assume it's how we set ourselves apart from the competition.
Suzanne Csik: Are UCDs similar to unique selling points?
Rich Durkin: Yes to both of you. Similar but different in the sense that they ‘permeate’ your entire operation. It is about distinguishing yourself from the competition.
Rich Durkin: In addition to the topic I would like to thank Paul Dunn and Persy Munshi for attending, any input will be valuable.
Well, What a Unique Core Differentiator is that thing or things that really sets you apart from your competitors. What's special about your business? What are those things that make your business different; better, than your competitors?
Michelle Kaye: It sounds like you are talking about branding.
How do you decide what those things are? Do you mean value added services?
Rich Durkin: Michelle Kaye - we'll get into that in a second. They are value added in a sense; you're positioning the amount of value that separates yourself from your clients.
Paul Dunn: Could I just respond to Michelle, Rich? There are a myriad of ways to decide which I'm sure we'll get to. What is important is to recognize that most firms don't have them. For example, if I asked your receptionist what you do, how would he/she respond?
Michelle Kaye: I should ask her sometime. I would probably be surprised at the answer.
Rich Durkin: What separates you from Joe Blow Accountant down the street? Can I ask each one of you to list two things that you offer in your accounting practice that your clients really like? Please write those now.
Michelle Kaye: Continuous partner contact, business consulting services.
Kerri Kleinschmit: Our friendliness, our timely performance.
Fred S.: Intimate service, on-call whenever they need us.
Rich Durkin: If you look at some of the things all of you offer, you'll find that most of you offer the same types of services. What I'm looking for here is the fact that most of you offer the same services in the same fashion.
Paul Dunn: And continuous partner contact is hardly unique nor is friendliness nor is business consulting services.
Rich Durkin: Most of you don't have, or at least don't highlight what your UCDs are. So, does anyone have any idea of how many UCD's there are?
3 UCD's that we know of.
Here they are
1. Actual Unique Core Differentiator
2. Created Unique Core Differentiator
3. Perceived Unique Core Differentiator
So, let's go into a little detail.
Actual UCD. That is, there's something genuinely unique about your business, the products, or services you provide or the way in which you provide these products and services.
Creating your Unique Core Differentiators will revolve around expressing that actual uniqueness in a way that's meaningful to your potential customers and clients.
Rich Durkin: Does anyone have an example they can think of?
Persy Munshi: One terrific UCD we have is our guarantee.
Paul Dunn: For example, I know of several firms around the world now who want to position themselves as 'coaches' with their clients. So they dress in tracksuits and visit clients that way.
Rich Durkin: "Parts Overnight" is a great example. - Thanks Persy & Paul.
In fact, the Unique Core Differentiator for this business is actually expressed in the company's very name! Because of this differentiator, the company is a huge success and has grown incredibly quickly.
Parts Overnight - You see, the business owner found out that it was virtually impossible to fix a laser printer overnight or even to get spare parts for printers overnight. The average turnaround was, in fact, 6 weeks! He went out on a limb and figured that other people must want their laser printers fixed sooner than that, too.
The owner studied the distribution channel within the industry carefully and found that it wasn't individual laser printer owners he needed as customers. Rather, he needed the computer and printer technicians who went into businesses and maintained the computer and printing systems and networks.
Session Moderator: What about speaking in layman's terms - abolishing technospeak?
Rich Durkin: Abolishing techno speak is a great way to make your clients fell more comfortable. Thanks SM.
To continue with the Parts Overnight example - From here, he started from scratch against the big players and won. In just 4 years, this business has gone from a one person start-up with $4,000 in stock sitting on a battered old bookshelf, all purchased on a credit card; to a profitable, worldwide business turning over $20+ million with about 15 team members.
Fred S.: So is it the branding that Michelle referred to? "We do chicken right" or "we try harder"?
Rich Durkin: Fred S. - it's more than a branding if it's an actual UCD, it is the way you separate yourself from the competition.
For instance, if you actually can prove you try harder than the competition than it's an Actual UCD, because no else can prove they work as hard as you.
Session Moderator: So a UCD is something that is unique to your firm and is done consistently, right?
Rich Durkin: But, if it's sort of a way to get people to think you try harder when you can't actually prove it than it's another type of UCD.
Fred S.: So what's an example of an actual UCD among CPA firms?
Rich Durkin: Go to that in a second.
Dave Wilson: Could the way we deliver the service be a UCD? Such as performing audits using the "Audit Watch" approach.
Rich Durkin: Well, I might ask you as accountants to think of what you could offer that nobody else could, if you don't come up with anything than you may have to use another type of UCD.
Rich Durkin: Does anyone have questions on the Actual UCD, Something that you offer that actually does differentiate you from the competition?
Kerri Kleinschmit: What about fixed price agreements rather than hourly billing?
Paul Dunn: Kerri. fpa's can be built up to become UCD's too (as opposed to hourly billing) Trouble is, soon everyone will see the wisdom of going to fixed price agreements.
Kerri Kleinschmit: This is true, but hopefully we can be recognized as setting the standard.
Mary J. Sanchez-Buch: There are several firms in our area using fpa's, so this isn't new here.
Rich Durkin: Next UCD.
Created Unique Core Differentiator. That is, you create a point of differentiation between your business and your competitors. For example, you may create a guarantee unlike any offered in your industry, one that your competitors are too scared to make. You may offer a level of after-sales service that surpasses all others.
Michelle Kaye: Like a money back guarantee?
Rich Durkin: Michelle Kaye - exactly, or why not try to get the client to come back so you get another shot at their business and instead of money back guarantee, how about the next service you provide is free, so the client has to come back once more and you can get another chance to impress them.
Michelle Kaye: Great idea. It may be hard for the partners to buy into giving away free service.
Paul Dunn: Persy mentioned guarantees. Any more on that Persy?
Persy Munshi: Sure. Our guarantee is simply this...if our business development clients do not feel that they have received value from the process, they pay nothing. No one else in this region offers this type of a guarantee. And the clients love it.
Mike Platt: Does anyone in the workshop offer a money back guarantee currently?
Kerri Kleinschmit: Yes, we do.
Dave Wilson: Yes.
Michelle Kaye: We have done it in the past...only with some larger clients.
Rich Durkin: You may have the only delivery or installation process of its kind. You may do something smarter or faster than your competitors. You may offer an 800 telephone number as a service hotline. Basically you create one that surpasses the competition and excites the customer.
Persy Munshi: Unless the guarantee is different from other's and is worth something to the customer.
Curtis Johnson: Home phone numbers on business cards?
Rich Durkin: Well, is your guarantee better than the others? Money back is fine but if everyone is offering it, is it really unique?
Session Moderator: So a guarantee wouldn't be a UCD if others were doing it, right?
Paul Dunn: SM: it does not actually NEED to be unique per se but rather uniquely 'articulated'
Kerri Kleinschmit: If the clients are not aware that is available elsewhere, couldn't it still be a UCD?
Suzanne Csik: Rich, can you please give another example for a CPA firm? Thanks!
Rich Durkin: Suzanne - how about offering different levels of service? The more you work with a client the more you'll guarantee faster results, this way you trying to get your clients to come in more often and ultimately that will make your job easier and better able to promise fast and quality results.
Let's work through a simple example for a wholesaler. Imagine you're a wholesaler who sells freshly baked cakes to retailers. You're new to the market or you want to grab market share from your competitors AND you want to do it without discounting.
You know that your competitor sells cakes that are (in the client's perception at least) as good as yours. And your prices are about the same, too. What can you do? You have to come up with something that will make you stand out? A Unique Core Differentiator that will make you the choice of cake suppliers.
So, the wholesaler has to look at what would make the retailer's appreciate his business over theirs. The wholesaler realized that the retailers of his competitor's cakes often couldn't sell all their cakes. So the retailers had to throw away the cakes, losing money in the process. This wholesaler decided to put together a strategy to reverse the risk. That is, he sold his cakes on the simple basis that if the retailers didn't sell them, the wholesaler would take back the leftovers at full price. That way, the retailers have a guaranteed margin and never lose.
Michelle Kaye: It is hard for us to apply some of this as we are offering services. Can you use a service firm as an example?
Paul Dunn: The key is the word CORE. Again, it has to permeate everything you do and then has to be uniquely articulated (like the firms I mentioned before who actually dress in warm-ups or tracksuits to position themselves as coaches with their clients.
Paul Dunn: Service firms can actually differentiate much easier Michelle because the service is intangible
Rich Durkin: Michelle, more examples at the end, right now we have to get through all the material.
It's clear that by structuring the business around this guarantee and creating this Unique Core Differentiator, the wholesaler stood out from the crowd in a competitive market. The retailers were given a better reason to buy from this wholesaler. As it turned out, the retailers were even prepared to pay a slightly higher price to get the product from this wholesaler, simply because of the Unique Core Differentiator. Not only that, the wholesaler also got more shelf space for his products. Customers bought more and more product simply because there was less risk. Further, the wholesaler began creating partnerships with the retailers because he had done something nobody else was willing to do and made life easier for them.
So, how could you make dealing with your business easier and more beneficial than dealing with your competitors? And then how could you build your business to promote a Unique Core Differentiator to articulate it clearly?
Or any questions on Created Unique Core Differentiators?
We'll go into more examples at the end, now for the next UCD.
Dave Wilson: We jump through hoops for our clients while others treat their clients poorly. Any ideas as to how we could articulate this?
Rich Durkin: Dave - Highlight what they're getting make sure and show them the value in what you do, possible breakdown all the services you provide in a questionnaire and benchmark against the industry. Practically dare the client to see if they can find as good as service somewhere else in a sense. Chances are they won't want to leave because of the level of service you provide, then you know you can expand on the amount you charge them if they feel that you're providing quality service. Sometimes you may even ask them if the amount you charge is fair, you'll be surprised to find out that some may even think you undercharge.
The third kind of Unique Core Differentiator, the Perceived Unique Core Differentiator, is also critically important Your Unique Core Differentiator does not (in fact) have to be unique. Let me explain.
You may not have anything in your business that's totally unique. Maybe in your industry you can only offer a certain set amount of services. But if you're the first one to articulate a difference (even though others do the same), you'll stand out in the marketplace as if you are unique. Simply because you've been the first to articulate it.
Suzanne Csik: I'm unclear on something - how would you benchmark providing superior services to your clients against the industry? Am I misunderstanding?
Curtis Johnson: So it's a marketing gimmick?
Rich Durkin: Suzanne, look at the yellow pages and see what they do for their clients, survey other businesses, see what great service they provide against what you provide.
Rich Durkin: For instance, some kinds of tuna fish offer "dolphin safe" tuna. Well, they're just articulating the fact that a stereotype about tuna is that some unintentionally catch dolphins in their nets.
Rich Durkin: But at the same time do you think the ones that don't say dolphin safe are intentionally using dolphins in their tuna? Of course not, but the Unique Core Differentiator that the "safe" tunas have displayed is perceived to be different and therefore people will buy the safe tuna not because the other tunas are using dolphins, but the safe ones are insuring to the fact that they don't. Thus, a Perceived Unique Core Differentiator.
So with this kind of Unique Core Differentiator, the customers perceive there's a difference when in fact there may not be any real difference.
In this instance, you may simply articulate what you do better than your competitors.
So, how do we get to find out our UCD?
Actions to take:
So, what you need to do now is start by listing what your accounting practice offers. Then, look through the phone book, look through the paper, look on the Internet and see what every other accounting practice is offering. Is yours the same? If it is the same, get your team together and begin to brainstorm how you can make the service a little better (created UCD), or sound a little more exciting (Perceived UCD).
Session Moderator: Rich, is defining UCDs and articulating them entirely a marketing function? What part does it play in branding?
Rich Durkin: SM - it is primarily to attract more clients but just as Parts Overnight did, they made a UCD into a brand, so it can very well be one.
Kerri Kleinschmit: It has to do with informing and making your clients aware of your uniqueness. What is obvious to you is not necessarily obvious to your client.
Rich Durkin: Thanks Kerri, right on.
You may even offer the new and/or different versions of the services to your clients and see which ones they would most like to take advantage of. You may even see if you can catch them off guard by have them give you feedback upon the best services you may hope to provide, when in all reality they're just different versions of Perceived Unique Core Differentiators.
In regards to what you offer you may also ask yourself,
Is it different?
Do you truly have a Unique Core Differentiator?
Maybe not in the services you provide since you are all accountants and thus provide similar services, but maybe you could offer:
1. Your tax season return done to perfection, or your next one is free.
2. Maybe you've got a video game system in your office, and you highlight that to try and attract couples with children, an easy way for them to put their focus on you and not have to worry about the kids.
Great! Rich, it looks like we have about 5 minutes left. I have a couple of collected questions. Would it be okay to go over those now?
Curtis Johnson: Can you give us some examples of some UCDs for firms that you work with so we can have something to relate to?
Rich Durkin: How about having a menu of drinks, snacks, and so fourth for every client so that when they come in they're treated real special, and they'll leave with that "wow" experience.
Rich Durkin: Persy - you have particular ones that your firm is proud of?
Persy Munshi: We've been working quite seriously on this issue at our firm (in Toledo, Ohio), and have realized that a lot of times we make the mistake thinking that we have all the answers to this question about how do we go about distinguishing ourselves from the competition. We discovered that we could identify and create some great UCDs by simply asking our clients two questions: (a) what do they really like about doing business with us; and (b) what are some key frustrations they and their business associates experience in dealing with CPA firms in general. By the way this is just one of the several tricks we've learned as a direct outcome of RAS' boot camp and resources.
Rich Durkin: Thanks Persy. The main idea is to do it different that the competition.
Session Moderator: How do you decide what those things are?
Rich Durkin: SM - the best way (I've indicated above in this chat), but to stress it again, you have to look at what everyone around you is offering, then bring the thought back to your team, see if they can help you in deciding how to position your services above and beyond everyone else.
I know of one client I worked with this year who had all his best clients look through certain sections of the yellow pages and then tell him which accountant they would pick based on the ad. Then, since he had his best clients (the kind that you would want) look through he wanted to figure out what the ads that his best clients constantly picked had different than everyone else. Then he combined all the highest ads that were picked into one strategy for his ad, and he significantly increased the amount of good clients calling him, somehow he found a trend of what good clients look for in his area! He got rid of the price shoppers and focused on value shoppers.
Another client had an open house for his clients, he invited the best ones down and asked them what they would like to see, this way he was trying to meet his clients needs, they had no reason to go somewhere else.
If everyone is offering free first visits, than you want to go beyond that. Because if you offer the same thing, it's not necessarily special. I'm not saying that everything you offer is special, but to attract new clients you have to give them that perception of something different to get their business.
Session Moderator: Rich, this has been a great workshop! Wow, what a lot of information and great examples. I have a couple of questions we need to cover before we wrap up, though.
Persy Munshi: Just curious, has anyone been to the Accountant's Bootcamp?
Cary Selby: Yes, this is familiar territory for us.
Dave Wilson: Yes we have.
Kerri Kleinschmit: Our partners have, but I have not.
Persy Munshi: The bootcamp turned out to be a great turning point for us. We are a firm of about 65 people and had stagnated for almost 5 years until we went to bootcamp and learned about a totally new and outstanding way of distinguishing ourselves from the competition.
Session Moderator: Here's another question: We jump through hoops for our clients while others treat their clients poorly. Any ideas as to how we could articulate this?
Rich Durkin: Before we wrap up, let me give you my information if you want to go into more detail. Although I'll stay online for as long as you want to discuss UCD's.
Please feel free to call me at 800-800-5601 if you have any questions or if you'd like me to go into further detail.
Even if you want to brainstorm with me some possible UCDs, I'd love to hear from you. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 
Also please feel free to check out our website for all kinds of easy access, interesting information. www.ras-net.com 
Session Moderator: Rich, thanks for a great session! Are there any other questions before we leave today?
Dave Wilson: Thanks Rich
Session Moderator: No questions? Okay, have a fantastic and successful week!
Fred S.: Thank you Rich.
Rich Durkin: The best advice for UCD's: 1. Research the competition, 2. see if you and your team can brainstorm how to differentiate yourself, 3. Ask your best clients what they would like to see different.
Thank you everyone for joining on today, hope it was helpful.
Session Moderator: Thanks for joining us today!