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What is your USP?

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We use lots of acronyms when we talk about marketing and sales---phrases like SEO, ROI, CPC, and PPC. And while you don't need to know what all of them mean, USP is definitely one you want to be familiar with. USP stands for Unique Selling Proposition and it is the backbone of all effective sales and marketing.

As I have traveled the country talking to operators, I am continually surprised by the answers I get when I ask any given company what they believe their USP is. The answers are, well, not all that unique.

Before you continue reading, I challenge you to do something. Take out a pen and write down 5 things that you believe are your unique selling propositions. Once you've written them down, continue reading. It’s all right...I’ll wait!

Now, let's talk about your list. While I am no magician, I bet that I can guess at least a few of the things you wrote down. If you are like most operators, you probably wrote some combination of the following: newer coaches, regular maintenance, great safety record, excellent drivers, friendly staff, a diverse fleet to accommodate various group sizes, and knowledgable customer service agents.

If you are wondering how I knew the things you’d list, perhaps it is time to look a little harder at what actually makes a good USP.

The first thing that makes a good USP is actually defined quite well in the acronym itself. Unique. Many companies that I work with confuse a USP with a list of the amenities, services, or qualities they wish to spotlight for their customers. While these are all good things, they are not really USPs. A USP is specifically focused on what it is that makes you different from the other choices in your market; it's THE reason why someone should choose you over your competitors.

About a year ago I attended an event honoring the 75th anniversary of an operator. Strewn about the event were things from the "good old days," and vintage advertising pieces were the highlight for me. One of the things I noticed was lots of language focusing on what, at the time, was their USP. Air conditioning and restrooms were the top of the list. During that period of time, those would have been big-selling advantages over their competitors. What we view as a baseline offering today was truly a USP back then.

I tell that story for a few reasons. First, it is easy to understand that if we were to highlight those same points as our USP in today's market, we’d make a laughing stock of ourselves. The market has changed and those items are no longer unique. The second reason I bring it up is to illustrate that a USP will, in all likelihood, not be the same for 10, 20, or 30 years. As market conditions change, what we need to be and do to stand out will change as well.

So, let's jump back to your USP list. If you are like most operators, your list includes some of the above-mentioned selling points. While those are all good things for a motorcoach company to have, they are about as unique as air conditioning and restrooms in today's market.

Here's the thing: I know that there is a little voice in your head right about now that is saying, "But our equipment is newer than those other guys’, and our drivers are better trained, and we do have the best reservation staff." You could go on and on justifying why these are important differentiators. I also know that, while restrooms and air conditioning are things you either have or don't have, the expertise of your drivers or the quality of your maintenance program is much more subjective. (Just because you prioritize maintenance does not mean all maintenance programs are the same.)

It's important to realize, however, that the second half of the acronym—the Selling Proposition—can’t be overlooked. You see, the point is to have something that a consumer can use to set you apart from your competitors. Imagine, for a moment, that you are planning a family reunion. You know you want to use a motorcoach because, let's face it, 50 ubers just isn't going to work for anyone, and you start looking around for someone to help. What are you going to do?

Well, first you'll use google to help you narrow down the list. No matter where you are, a quick search will inevitably give you a few options. Then, you'll take a quick look at the websites. You'll probably spend less than 4 minutes on each site looking for things that will ultimately disqualify some companies from the mix. Next, you'll get quotes—either by filling out a quote form on each site or making some phone calls—and try to make a decision on which company you'd like to work with.

While many sales people in this industry would say that it all comes down to price, the truth is a bit more complex. In this case, if you are like most consumers, the next thing you’ll do is try to determine the reason for the price disparity among the different companies. You will compare the quotes and backtrack to the websites as you look for something to help you make the right choice. Yes, price will be something you'll consider, but it will not be the only determining factor.

Now let's imagine you are shopping between 3 companies. Company one quotes $800 for the day, company 2 quotes $950, and company 3 comes in at $1100. You head to their sites to check out what they are offering and this is what you come up with.

All three have late-model coaches that seat 56 passengers. All of the companies claim to provide clean, safe, reliable services, and they say they’ve got good drivers and a great safety rating from the FMCSA. Each one has photos of equipment that appears--to the untrained eye--to be nice, and they all advertise a regular maintenance program. One company did have a slightly-nicer person on the phone, however, and one got the quote back much quicker than the other two.

How would you choose? In this case, and in countless scenarios like this every day, the answer would most likely be price. But why are they choosing based on price? Is it because of actual budget constraints, or is it just because price was ultimately the only USP that the companies presented?

This all leads to one inevitable question: How do we actually create value through a USP? The short answer here is this: Look beyond the proverbial air conditioning and restrooms to identify what it is that actually makes you different from your competitors. Is it your history, family, staff, or drivers? Is it your level of service? Perhaps it actually is your maintenance program. Once you know what it is, the next part of the USP equation is to turn that thing into a selling proposition—that is to say, into something that the person shopping for their family reunion can look at and say "I choose this company because of that." This process is more complicated than simply pinpointing what your advantage is; you've got to craft the story of what it is, along with illustrating, for the consumer, why they should care about it.
Once you have identified your USP, the next step is to make it a part of your selling culture. With every piece of marketing, every conversation, and every opportunity you have to sell, this should be the first and last thing you tell potential consumers. But it’s not just about telling them you’ve got good drivers; it's about telling them how good—and, more importantly, what that means for them. If this is done well in a conversation or selling opportunity, the consumer will understand what you are offering and feel as though there's no way they'd ever choose anyone else who doesn’t have it. Pair this with a truly unique offering, and you will see remarkable things happen in your sales department.

Those of us in the motorcoach world speak a different language than the consuming public. We know the difference between a good coach and a great coach, that not all maintenance programs are created equal, and that, while a CDL makes you a "driver," it does not guarantee that you're a good driver. But the buying public does not know what we know, and our job is to establish what it is that sets us apart and translate that into language that buyers know and understand ("What’s in it for me?").

Giving buyers something—anything—aside from price to help them make a decision will help close more deals and firm up pricing as well. Remember that, just like air conditioning and restrooms, what you offer as your USP today will, in all likelihood, change over time. So, keep focused on what makes you the best choice and stay ahead of the curve! Furthermore, if you need a little help, were here.

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