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How to respond when you’re asked ‘What makes you different?’

It’s one question we all dread getting asked. You’re talking with a prospective client and then they pause, look at you thoughtfully and ask ‘So, what makes you different?’

What do you say?

In the moment it’s easy to start rattling off a list of features (we’re the biggest, we’re the best at), but there are much better ways to answer this question that are going to have a more powerful impact, and make the person you’re talking to engage with you now or want to speak with you again. What comes out of your mouth next could determine your entire future with this client.

In mind, how you answer depends on the situation you’re in.

At the beginning of a meeting
If the question gets asked at the beginning of a meeting, the most impactful response is ‘Well, my view is probably a little biased, so I’m hoping by the end of this meeting that you’ll be in the best position to answer that. Are you okay if we revisit that question at the end?’

If you do this, you need to run the meeting in a way that shows them how you’re different (tip – don’t talk all about you), and then make sure at the end you do check back in and ask ‘From our conversation today is it clear in your mind how I might be different and potentially helpful for you?’. If they say no, read on…

At the end of a meeting
If the question is asked at the end of a meeting, the best thing you can say is ‘I’m not sure I’m the best person to tell you how I’m different, but what I’d love to do is put you in touch with three of my clients so they can talk to you about how they think I’m different. Would that be of interest?’

Having someone else speak about you increases the credibility of your points of difference, and lowers the risk of getting stuck into a features based list of all the things you do . A second-best option would be to send them some testimonials from clients that explain how you’re different.

When you’re networking
When you’re in a more informal networking situation, the pressure is on when this question is asked as you have a much smaller window of time in which to answer it in an impactful way. The focus here is to make the other person think ‘I really want to meet with this person because I think they can help me’. You’ll only achieve this by showing them how you can benefit their business by talking about how OTHER clients have benefited from working with you. You can do this by structuring your response around the three core benefits: time, money and comfort/confidence (all three or a combination of).

So, if I was a recruiter (the example from my video) I might say:
‘Well, there are three things that clients often tell us about what it is they enjoy about working with us. The first is that they know they’ve got the person that is going to make the biggest difference to their business and therefore the cost of the recruitment becomes irrelevant (MONEY). They also tell us that they really appreciate that we’re able to place the right candidate in the business in a really short timeframe, ensuring there isn’t too much of an interruption to business processes (TIME). And lastly they tell us that they know that our internal processes are so good that we have absolute confidence that every time you place someone in the business we are confident they’re the right person (COMFORT).’

The critical thing is to then follow this up with the question ‘Are any of these three critical to you?’

If they say ‘No, not really’ maybe suggest that you might not be the right provider for them – and ask what is really critical for them. Once they tell you what’s most critical then either suggest someone else who can provide that, or follow the advice below.

If they say yes or point to a benefit you can provide, follow this up with a story that shows how you’ve helped another client realise this benefit from working with you. Because evidence is always king!

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