Mark Coudray: How customers can help you discover your business’s uniqueness
In our third article with print industry pioneer Mark Coudray, we look at marketing to high-value propositions and the practical role that customers can have in your unique business framework.
Recently, we spoke to print industry innovator Mark Coudray in California. Mark was interviewed for two articles: one about the emerging influence of artificial intelligence (AI) and one about how Mark uses AI and his own business philosophy to make companies more successful and resilient.
At the core of Mark’s philosophy is the process of identifying and then maximising competitive ‘uniqueness’.
“Often, I’ll find two or three unique areas in a business that coexist at the same time. That makes it really hard for a competitor to figure out what that business is doing because they might be only looking at the technical aspect of the print, or the message to the market, or from the viewpoint of their own particular biases. What I try to do is expand the sphere, so a company has aspects that differentiate them,” Mark told us.
As you begin to look at your value proposition and what you offer to your clients, then you really start to see a structure, you begin to see patterns within that
So far, Mark has identified 24 defining characteristics that businesses can build on. But without giving away what Mark calls the “special sauce” of his consultancy business by specifically listing these 24, what actually are these unique qualities? We spoke to Mark to find out more.
Welcome to Pareto
“More than specific areas of uniqueness, let’s talk about the framework involved in determining what unique qualities are,” Mark says.
“For this, we need to consider the Pareto principal of 80/20. If we look at the value of our customers as a mathematical equation, and the value of our market and the value of our processes, Pareto distribution holds true.
“So let’s say that for 80% of our customers, the average value of each of them is ‘1’, whatever ‘1’ might be – it could be £100 or £1,000. If we move into the upper 20% of the customers that we have, each of them then has an average relative value four times greater. Then, if we take 20% of that group – which is 4% of the overall – each has an average relative value 16 times greater. And if we take 20% of that 4% – which is roughly 1% of the overall – each of those has an average relative value that is 64 times greater than the average value of each of the 80% group.”
While that is fascinating as a theory, the secret to success is being able to monetise this awareness. And this is where building your business’s own uniquenesses comes in.
“What we want to do is look at our marketing proposition from the standpoint of the top 4% and the top 1% because that’s where the high value is. The only way we can do that is by asking very specific questions of our customers, otherwise 80% of responses will be the same response. For example, the most common low-value responses that you will get are: How much will it cost? How fast can you do it? Can I check with my partner? Those are 80% value responses or objections – they have very low value because they are escaping the engagement,” Mark explains.
“Instead, when you move into the top 20% of responses, they are more along the lines of:
- Can I have that in a certain uncommon format?
- Can I have that on a particular unique substrate?
- Can I have that with specific durability?
“These are specific questions around your defined solution. I categorise all of these questions and I build a response or objection sheet based on them. They’re questions around clarity, affordability, confidence, commitment to moving forward. With these, I’m looking for the 4% and 1% answers in as many different areas as I can find, and from those I can derive business-specific uniquenesses.
“So finding uniquenesses is based entirely on empirical data. What we’re doing is using maths to define the probability of competition and we’re picking the highest value responses our competitors won’t have answers to. They’ll have answers to the low-value responses, but we’re not interested in low value, we’re interested in the high value responses across multiple levels.”
While Mark has so far identified 24 specific areas of uniqueness that he uses when helping businesses, that is far from a complete list.
“I’m finding new things all the time – I just have to ask different questions. And when you ask different questions, you’re going to get different objections. As you begin to look at your value proposition and what you offer to your clients, then you really start to see a structure, you begin to see patterns within that. From that, we go 80/20 again to filter the responses in each area of concern. What’s a 20% response? What’s a 4% response? What question do I need to ask?” Mark says.
“I always position the questions in a contrarian model. Salespeople are happy to respond to easy objections, but I tell the customer to ask me the hardest thing they can possibly think of for me to answer. I’ve heard all the easy objections, I want the hard ones. I’m inviting them to challenge me, and in the process of doing that, you are differentiating yourself as a business from everybody else. If they ask you something that you are going to have to go away and investigate, that is going to provide far greater value to both the business and the customer.”
When you control the transaction, you can provide higher value. It’s the complete opposite of commoditisation, and you’re doing it in such a way that your competitors can’t figure out what you are doing
4% × 4% × 4% × 4% =.000256% of 1%
Not only does this process mean that, over the long term, the customer is actually helping you to identify the areas of uniqueness that will benefit your business, but in the short term it also helps customers clarify in their own mind what they want.
“You become a collaborator rather than somebody who is trying to influence or persuade them to close the deal,” Mark says. “This is a much better trust-building exercise. Every salesperson wants the big deal, where the deal is the prize. But you yourself want to become the prize, because when you are the prize in the transaction, you control the transaction. And when you control the transaction, you can provide higher value. It’s the complete opposite of commoditisation, and you’re doing it in such a way that your competitors can’t figure out what you are doing.”
“If you look at the probability of somebody trying to compete with you, if you have three or four areas that you are focusing on and you look at the answers that make up the 4% and the 1% solutions in those three or four areas, then the probability of figuring out your model becomes:
In that situation, the probability of your competitors figuring out what you are doing and compete with you is extremely unlikely.
“Of course, knowing what is a 4% and a 1% response takes knowledge and experience, but there are ways round it, such as using AI like ChatGPT.”
We will look at ChatGPT and AI language models in next month’s conversation with Mark.
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