Advisors need to articulate how they stand out from the competition.

In his last column [March 2003], Pusateri discussed the fifth step on the Value Ladder: "Who Do You Do it For?" Let's climb to the next step now.

Theodore Levitt, Professor Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and widely recognized marketing and management authority ,said in his best-selling book, The Marketing Imagination, there is no such thing as a commodity and all goods and services are differentiable. I agree with his assessment, and the question you should ask yourself is, 'If that is true, then what makes me stand out from my competition? What makes me different?'

When prospects ask, "What makes you different?" you immediately need to qualify the question. Ask, "Different from whom, different than what?" Tell them you need to better understand what they mean so you can provide the answer they are seeking. Do they mean different from another financial planning firm, different in terms of solutions, different from them as an individual or what they can expect from you through a partnership?

By asking your prospect to clarify, "Different than what?" or by respectfully using a phrase like, "Help me to help you," then you can focus your answers on the specific differentiation factors about which the prospect may be thinking. Your response to their questions will let them know the breadth and depth of your differentiation knowledge and will set you apart as world class.

Often, when I get to this step in my workshops, I ask the participants if anyone has ever been asked, "What makes you different?" I usually get a few chuckles, and some laughter. Then I ask the group, "Well, tell me, what other ways can this question be asked of you?" A typical answer is: "My prospect will say he's talking to another financial advisor, and asks how do my services and solutions compare?"

Most often, advisors believe they understand their competition and can answer with authority. However, it's not until I begin asking advisors questions about their competitors that I can feel the discomfort in their answers. That is when most advisors begin "winging it with prospects."

Why does it matter how well you answer this question? If you're answering with confidence, passion and speed, your prospects will think, "This person has his/her act together." If, on the other hand, you're winging it-then the prospect thinks you don't know your business. You know what I mean. You've been there yourself, as a consumer of other professional services.

Other times advisors will ask me, "Isn't my UVP (Unique Value Proposition) a good enough statement of what makes me different?" Well, your UVP is your proposal of value. A good UVP will indeed set you apart and speak to your uniqueness, but it will not compare you directly with a key competitor or financial solution.

Three Ways to Distinguish Yourself

There are three key ways to distinguish yourself in this crowded marketplace:

1. You must distinguish your firm against other financial advisor practices. This is called Organizational or practice differentiation.

2. You must distinguish yourself on a solutions level. This is called solution differentiation.