“But how is this any different than [insert product name]?”
That one sentence alone is enough to drive any founder, entrepreneur, or business owner crazy.
You’ve put in months of hard working shipping code, working on new designs, fixing bugs, hiring a team, planning out marketing campaigns — and then it all comes down to how you stack up vs. an existing product.
And to make things even more frustrating, this question is harder than ever to answer.
There are so many competing products today in every industry. It’s rare that your product will be the first of its kind.
Just take a look at all of the new products launching on Product Hunt everyday — usually by the second or third comment down you’ll see “Yeah but how is this different than [some product that already exists].”
Coming up with a clear and compelling positioning statement is hard enough on its own — nevermind when you’re swimming in a sea of competitors.
But you shouldn’t let that question drive you crazy.
In fact, it actually means you might be on to something big. Here’s why –and how to answer that question when your customers start asking.
PS. We’re bringing the power of AI to the most important part of your business: the relationships you have with your customers. Click here to learn more about Drift.
Embrace The Questions About Your Competitors
It can be a huge burden psychologically to hear rejection as a founder — especially when it comes at the hands of a competitor that has a larger team, more customers, and has been around the block much longer than you have.
But it’s inevitable that this question is going to come up if you are building anything remotely interesting.
These “rejections” come in many forms, but most of them look like:
- “I’d go with your product but you are missing feature X.”
- “If you don’t integrate with Y we just can’t justify the switching cost.”
- “Your pricing is so much better, but we really need this SDK for us to switch to your product.”
- “I’ve been using your product for a few weeks now, but it feels less stable than your competitors.”
Now, before we share details on how to handle these situations and questions, we need to stop for a second and acknowledge that these questions are good.
You are onto something big if these questions come up — the mere fact that you are receiving feedback from your potential customers signals that what you are building solves a real problem and that the competitor might have a few weak spots.
These questions should be treated like an opportunity — not a source of frustration.
Here’s how to handle them and address the rejection.
Make The Time To Have 1:1 Conversations
There is no better “growth hack” than setting aside time to actually talk to your customers (more on how to actually do that here).
Whoever gets closer to their customers will win — and this is your most important advantage when it comes to the competition. Use it. Do all of the things that don’t scale.
So whenever a customer brings up the competition, don’t get defensive. Do the opposite — and make yourself available. Dig in.
No matter how busy I am building Drift, I always give out my phone number, direct email address (elias at drift dot com), and access to my calendar to anyone that is interested in what we’re doing and has questions.
If you’re a founder, you need to take advantage of this. Your competition is having support reps or customer success managers deal with these questions — but there’s no better feeling for a potential customer than talking to one of the owners of the business directly.
This is probably your only chance to win over a customer because switching costs are so high. Take every call and conversation you can get.
What good does it do if you spend all of your time building the wrong product because you never talked to your potential customers?
Remember The Advantages Of Being Small
Think about the businesses that have fundamentally changed the way we do things — from Airbnb taking on hotels, to Netflix taking on Blockbuster, to Uber taking on cabs. Each one of those businesses started small — and used being small to their advantage.
When you’re small, you have advantages like speed, giving customers direct access to the team, the ability to change the product roadmap on the fly, and more.
And don’t forget human nature — just like we want to be first as founders, customers often love being the first to use a new product.
Focus On These Guiding Principles
When it comes to questions about the competition, here are a few guiding principles — think of this as a checklist of sorts for the next time someone asks about your business and how you compare:
Be honest. You are not going to have every feature, integration, or near the same reliability at first. But you want to win and need to let your customers know that you’re hungry for their feedback. So be honest about what you can do for them today.
Listen. You need to make sure you hear them out. Why are they even comparing you with the competition in the first place? Are they using their product and not happy? How did they hear about you? Are they aware of your product? Do they see you already as formidable competitor or are you simply missing X? When someone asks how you are different, you need to go beyond the surface and figure out why they are asking in the first place. Ask as many questions as you can before giving a specific answer about a certain feature — you’ll be surprised at what you can uncover.
Positioning. You can’t be everything to everybody, and as a result, you need to learn how to say no. Focus on building a product that is simple and solves a problem for a specific group of people. Patience is key — at first you might not know enough to uniquely position yourself, but you are going to have to. Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin call this nailing a niche (and a niche doesn’t have to be small).
Customer service. There’s one thing people want more than features: your attention. If you deliver unparalleled customer service in the early days, you’ll win customers for life. People like doing business with people.
Price. If you are focusing on revenue early on, you are wasting your time. The most valuable thing you can get is feedback, and you can’t get it if no one is using your product. Plus, the one thing you can always beat the competition on is price — at first, at least. If you have a customer on the hook, don’t lose a deal in the early days over price. But you need to make sure that price alone is not the motivator. You are looking for customers that are asking about your customer service, features, speed, reliability, vision, and more. Those are the key reasons why you want a customer to switch — or else they will leave the first time you make a change to your pricing.
Testimonials. If you can get just one customer to make the switch, you can get another. If you can get five, you can get ten. And this momentum will keep building the more you can share testimonials and ancedotes from other customers that have successfully migrated over from a competitor.
The End Goal Is Learning
Competitive questions can be exhausting at first. It’s tough to sit there and listen to someone talk about some tiny feature you don’t have and hear how that’s the reason they aren’t using your product yet. But that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. In the early days of a company, your goal is to learn as much as possible about your customers and the market, and then work quickly to make a change and take your next best guess.
I’ve gone through this multiple times now as a founder, but each time it goes away faster then you think if you spend time diving into these conversations, talking to customers, and focusing on what matters.
And just remember: when people start coming to your website and asking you how you’re different than the competition — you’re on to something.