Archive for the ‘switching costs’ Tag

Unhorsing an Entrenched Competitor

Since my last post was about first mover advantage https://rosenhaft.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/web-marketing-leveraging-first-mover-advantage-on-the-web/, this post will be a how-to on enter a market with an entrenched, but less capable competitor. The assumption is that your offering is of superior quality or has unique attributes for the market at large. There are different strategies for purely niche products, “me-too”, or purely local offerings that are the subject for later posts. This post is for that company that has developed a better mouse-trap and needs a market entry strategy to unhorse an less capable, but established competitor.

My last post discussed the micro-economics behind the marketing and this post will do the same. Displacing a competitor is all about two costs:

1. Opportunity Costs – the value of your opportunity outweighs the switching costs; time, money, resources, pain, risk, etc.

2. Switching Costs – hard AND soft costs; time, money, resources, training, risk, pain, etc.

The entrenched competitors barriers to exit are your customers barriers to entry for your offering. Many companies under estimate the switching cost equation in displacing a competitor. Many times a company has a much better offering than their entrenched competitor, but cannot seem to get traction. When you di deeper, you find out that there is much more to the “cost” of switching beyond features or a small price difference. You find out a customer has to go through extensive training, has an extended contract that is not up for renewal, or doesn’t perceive the value of the offering as worth the hassle of switching for such a small price savings.

The keys to switching are really about changing the rules of the market. Bringing something new in terms of capabilities, changing the cost structure through planned commoditization, providing a different focus, bringing a targeted solution, AND FINALLY – being easier-to-do business.

Major Factors

1. Price –  Competing on price alone is a very difficult as it actually devalues the offering and discourages loyalty. “Cheep” is different than “economies of scale”. At the onset of the article, I positioned “me-too” offerings as a different strategy. This is why… “me-too @ a lower cost” has a place in the spectrum of the market targeting the cost-conscious buyer. Knock-offs are a good example; however, this takes a different type of positioning to target the cost-conscious buyer with a specific call-to-action. This is a particular market strategy that, in reality, is a niche. If done poorly, or not by design, it can lead to devaluation and rampant commoditization. If you can match the quality with 20% less cost, you generally can attract a portion of the market’s attention depending upon the industry and the competitor (see relationship below).

2. Capabilities – Features & Functionality – This is the secret-sauce approach. We are better because we can provide better capabilities that the competitor cannot. This may be a segment of the market or the whole market depending upon your capabilities. Features tend to not be sufficient on their own to motivate switching.

Better functionality may not necessarilymotivate a buyer to switch either. If you are higher priced with better functionality, you will have trouble with major displacement . The cost factor will be weighed into the equation unless your capabilities significantly change the buyers value equation; ie you save them much more money than the offering’s cost. “Our product saved the buyer 35% in processing time which translated into $250,000 in savingsover 3 years.” If your product costs $75,000 installed, which is $25,000 more than your competitors, but you save them $$225,000 in total cost over 3 years, you can make a case for displacement. If you are more expensive and cannot calculate a hard $ ROI, you will have to rely on a combination of techniques for displacement. For products that are truly revolutionary in which you change the cost structure of the market, you can introduce a lower price, and show a better ROI; then you have an opportunity to displace a large part of the market.

3. Relationship – Customer Support /Responsiveness /Ease-of-Use / Easy-to-Do-Business – Most companies provide mediocre service by definition. Whether by scale issues, complacency, or distraction; a majority of entrenched industry players are vulnerable to displacement based upon customer dissatisfaction. The notable exceptions are the ones that really shine. Service is particularly challenging for product companies.

If you are a new entrant, make service a hall-mark of your offering. Take the time to put in place the processes that will enable you to demonstrate your responsiveness to the challenges of the market. If your competitor’s customers are annoyed by the amount of training it takes to get people productive, then this should be your focus. If a competitor takes 2 business days to answer an email, then this should be your focus. My guess is that average companies probably have 10-20% of their customer base vulnerable to switching due to service. Below average service companies probably have a lot more.

4. Speed– the axiom of “time is money” is a great selling point for a potential customer if you can demonstrate the ROI from the change. Selling that we are faster (slightly) in itself does not generally motivate buyers. Proportionality is critical. Did you upgrade your last PC because it was milliseconds faster? If so, you were a minority; hence why the PC & chip industries are rethinking the “speed is better” industry sales pitches. Save 20% in a major operation & improve quality; you have a customer’s attention. Do it at a lower cost due to changes in technology; better. Now, do it without disrupting their organization’s operations while they switch; you have a “winner”.

5. Tailored Solutions –A large competitor’s niche or market segment, may actually be your market. Once again, proportionality applies. For your competitor, a segment may be 10% of their total market. A niche may be 1 or 2% of their revenues. For a company with $2B in revenues, $50M may not be sufficient to focus. For you, $50M is a sufficient market to enter and begin your market domination. If you competitor is not focused on a part of the market, then the obvious strategy is to pick a small enough market segment that you can dominate with a more tailored offering.

The challenge is to balance the entry into the niche without pigeon-holing yourself or awaking the sleeping giant. Your ability to service this niche with ramifications for the rest of the market, may be just the wake-up call and the validation for upgrading their offering. You could create your greatest competitor; who then leverages their relationships to the market with a “me-too” offering. Your competitor could even use your “newness” against you as a risk mitigation strategy.

Figuring out how you will enter, how you will communication the value, how you will expand beyond the entry point, and how you will evolve your offering to stay ahead of the competitor is critical. You don’t want to win the initial battle and find yourself losing the war….

6. Risk Management – Most new entrants fail to gain traction because they fail to account for the buyer’s fear of change and overall inertia. “I am not really happy with our vendor, but….. we would have to go through training, we have a contract, saving that little money isn’t important, we are comfortable, we are used to it, etc.”

Pick your excuse…. what they are really saying is that your offering isn’t worth the trouble in switching. You haven’t built a sufficient case to risk switching. Contrast that with a resounding YES that certain products and services elicit. These offerings provide a significantly, measurable, emotional, and tangible improvement over what they are doing today. AND these offerings do it in a way that seems easier and doesn’t involve much risk of switching.

Pull all of the above together to build a multi-faceted, multi-stage market entry strategy and you have the potential for a “disruptive” offering. The reality is that most companies don’t have a disruptive, “home-run” where they can drive word-of-mouth merely by “building it and they will come”. The majority of younger companies will have to focus on the fundamentals and build upon their slight advantages. In essence, they will have to manufacture runs from their singles and wait for the “right pitch”. Understanding your competitors strengths and weaknesses, the market opportunity for improved offerings, and understanding the market’s risk equation are the keys to successfully entering a new market. 

There is a concept that I call “switching point” which is the micro-econmomic version of Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point”. The switching point is the threshold in which you have created sufficient value to convince the potential customer that the opportunity of your offering outweighs the switching costs from the competitor. This is not an absolute, in fact may be unique to each customer, but a good market analysis should incorporate an identification of this equation into the sales process. Understanding the buyer motivation, switching challenges, and pain points will assist you in displacing an entrenched competitor.

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The Triple Crown of Web 2.0 & Online Application Development

From a product management perspective, the three major critical success factors for building online applications are Adoption, Distribution ,and Value. Notice that functionality is not on the list & I will explain why. Also, you may think I am having a product management conversation, but as with any good marketing, it has to be rooted in economics. More importantly, focusing on customer acquisition costs. 

Unless you have are building your online application as free-ware without a way to monetize the relationships (there are a good number of Silicon Valley garage & VC backed companies still doing this, also a good number of IPhone apps), then eventually you have to figure out how to make money from the application that you are building. Even if you are creating a free application to drive distribution, but you assume that at some point that you will sell something, upsell something, or advertise something; then you probably need to have thought though these issues.

1. Adoption – in a previous post, I discussed why adoption trumps functionality in Web 2.0 applications https://rosenhaft.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/in-web-2-0-software-adoption-trumps-functionality/ Bottom line is that without users, web 2.0 collaboration cannot occur. You can look at the ecosystem of twitter or facebook apps to get an idea, but it works on a micro-level, as well. If you don’t get a significant percentage of your available population to use your application, it isn’t very valuable. With near zero distribution costs on the internet, the real price is customer awareness. You have to capture their attention and interest; otherwise the value of collaborative applications is marginalized.

2. Distribution – If you are distributing your application, you would assume ubiquitous distribution, but the problem is that so does everyone else. I had coffee with a CEO recently who told me that there wasn’t a great deal of competition for their application, but when I went online to do research, I found at least 25 or so competing applications. The direct competitiveness was questionable, along with the quality, but even if you gave it away for free; it would be difficult to break through the noise without significant marketing $’s OR a partner that could distribute the application. In essense, you need a “big brother” partner to assist you in breaking through the noise so that you can overcome the barriers to market entry. The partner provides the ability to differentiate from the crowd, gain awareness, and creates an assumption of quality. This can be a technology platform vendor (Iphone, Facebook, Microsoft, Sony, etc) or it can be an industry brand that the customers already buy a complimentary offering. Giving away a free application to drive distribution is also a good strategy, as long as it is part of a larger strategy.

3. Value – you have to provide more value than the prospective user will give; whether its there time, money, attention, relationships, etc. This sounds simple, but when you take into account market segmentation, competitive factors, and other market noise, it isn’t as easy. Let’s assume that you are servicing a vertical market with a very cool web-based application that allows the customer to save 20% off their transaction costs & shave 2 hours per user a week on a particular process. No brainer, they should value this application at least $1,200 per user per month, we should charge them $600. We are done, let’s go to market…. right? Wrong!

Pricing the application is more complicated than that when you take into account the switching costs from things they are doing today, competitive offerings, customer acquisition costs, exist costs, etc.

  • You find out they are using an old windows application that they have been using for 12 years. 20% savings doesn’t really mean much to the people using it day-to-day.
  • The business owner has an annual contract for support that has another 9 months left on it so the 20% isn’t as attractive as you would think.
  • The legacy application does not have the ability to easily export the 12 years worth of data to your web application. So, even though you have used the latest technologies for creating your API, it requires professional services to transition them. Wipes out the 20% savings in the first year.

I could go on, but when you begin to think about how to launch a new web 2.0 application, even though it seems like a game-changer for the market, there are legacy issues that need to be thought through. “Build it and they will come syndrome” has tripped us a good many new improved software applications.

It is hard and costly to simplify the adoption, distribution, and value proposition, right? Yes and no. If you ask the market and potential customers, you will incur costs and time to understand and overcome the potential roadblocks, but the risk mitigation is priceless.

Some simple advise to close on:

  • Go where customer is, not where you think they are… Customer perception is your reality…
  • It is easier to sell to companies that have money… don’t be afraid of competition or large markets, but do your homework. Smaller, niche markets also can produce more revenue is the pain is greater.
  • Customers buy from the company that is easiest to do business fromwith… registration, price, package, etc.
  • Distribution on the web is about finding relationships to reach likely customers in buying mode…
  • Value is identifying pain, “must have” versus “nice to have” – we are all overwhelmed with choices, where do we focus is prioritized based on our perceived needs. Even opportunities are based upon perceived pain.
  • Emotional connection play a large part in impulse, attention, switching costs, substitutions, opportunity, & empathy – all of which play a part in buyer behavior

The single biggest mistake I see companies make in launching new online applications is that they do not think through the factors outside of their immediate control. If you had enough warning that you were going to crash your car, you could change direction or avoid a potential wreck. Involving distribution partnerships and customers earlier in the product development cycle is exactly the way to identify potential “app killers” and allow you to make that “killer app”.