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SELL THE DIFFERENCE: Establishing your Unique Solution Value

What can we all learn from Apple’s stunning success?

Posted by Bob Apollo on Thu 26-Jan-2012

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Apple has just posted results that far outstrip analyst expectations - nearly doubling their revenue year-on-year and more than doubling their profit. What lessons can we in B2B sales and marketing learn from Apple’s stunning success? I’d like to focus on three aspects that I believe we can all put into practice in our own businesses: clarity of focus, disciplined execution and the relentless emphasis on the customer experience.

Apple logo 150Apple clearly dominates many of the sectors in which it has chosen to compete: with the iPad in the tablet market, with the iPhone in the smartphone market, and with the iPod in the portable music player market. The halo effect (and consistently exceptional product design) has also helped to drive the Apple’s desktop and laptop computer sales. And it’s not just Apple that benefits: Apple has now paid a cumulative $4 billion to third-party developers via the App Store.

You would think me foolish if I suggested that any of us mere mortals could emulate this level of success: but I believe that the three behaviours I have observed - clarity of focus, disciplined execution and the relentless emphasis on the customer experience - can enable any B2B company to outperform their competitors and win the respect and loyalty of their customers.

Clarity of focus

When Apple decides to compete in a market, it does so with exceptional clarity of focus. It is not in any market simply to make up the numbers: it is there to become the leading player. I’d argue that this holds true even in markets where Apple might at first glance appear not to be dominant (such as desktop PCs) because it chooses to target well-defined market sub-segments (such as graphics design).

The lesson learned? Aiming to be a bit player in a large market (“how hard can it be to win 1% of the [xxxx] market?”) is a losing strategy. When you are thinking about the markets you choose to serve, choose a clearly-defined, genuine segment (one that matches real buying behaviour, rather than your fevered imagination) where you can address that market’s needs better than any other option available, and seek to dominate.

Then leverage your strength to move into adjacent sectors - much as Apple did from the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad. Better to be strong in a market you can own rather than weak in a market where other players are dictating the terms.

Disciplined execution

When Apple decides to compete in a market, it does so with breathtakingly disciplined execution, paying attention to every small detail of the solution. It recognises that having the “best” product (whatever that means) isn’t enough: you also have to establish the best ecosystem. Apple has surrounded itself with complementary product providers (just look at the App Store) that serve to extend the capabilities and value of its offerings.

The lesson learned? Pay attention to the details, and don’t expose your customers to any “raw edges” in your product offering. Set out to understand and address every aspect that might impact the potential benefit of your offering to your customer. Fill in any gaps through partnerships. Make it as easy as possible for your customers to realise the full value of whatever they have chosen to buy from you.

Relentless emphasis on the customer experience

At over $150bn, Apple is now the world’s most valuable brand. But Apple’s brand isn’t just about the iconic logo. Apple’s brand value reflects every aspect of the customer experience - from the elegant simplicity with which the product “just works”, through to every touch point between Apple and its customers. It’s about the experience when you visit an Apple store, when you use the Apple website, or when you call Apple on the phone. Apple has sought to ensure that every one of these customer experiences is consistently exceptional.

The lesson learned? Your brand isn’t about your logo, or your advertising. It’s about every possible interaction that could exist between your company and its offerings and your customers. It’s about making a clear promise and going out of your way to ensure that it is delivered. It’s about eliminating the opportunities for disappointment and (pardon the hackneyed sentiment) about continuously creating opportunities for delighting your customers.

What can your business learn from Apple?

If you’re an Apple user, I expect that a number of these themes will resonate with you. Even if you’re not, I’d encourage you to consider how the lessons learned might be applied to your business. I believe we can all take something of value from the Apple experience.

Topics: B2B Marketing, Thought Leaders, Complex Sales