Could your "non-negotiables" be a game changer?

Being an agile, quick-on-your-feet business owner is why you are still able to conduct business amidst this economic storm we are all still navigating through. The ability to flex and adapt is what has always made America’s entrepreneurs the foundation of economic recovery. Just as important as your agility is your capability in knowing what is in the best interests of your customer to the point of inflexibility. What … you might be asking? Inflexibility? 


In working with entrepreneurial companies that have effectively established their mark as the go-to, preferred choice in their industry or marketplace, these savvy businesses understand the importance of being inflexible when it counts the most. In another column, I mentioned the importance of knowing the difference between “the customer is always right and the customer is number one.” This takes this understanding to another level. Doing what is best for the customer to achieve the desired end result can also mean stressing certain aspects of what you do or provide as essential and non-negotiable. This does not mean you are being unaccommodating. It means you have time-proven that these aspects are critical to successfully meeting and exceeding customer expectations.  In addition to establishing clear expectations of how to serve the customer, you have also determined which aspects of your product development, service delivery, or your approach in general that cannot be altered or eliminated.


For example, a landscape architectural firm realized its non-negotiable was the expectation that every client would invest in an irrigation system in conjunction with its landscaping design/build services. This was in the client’s best interests to avoid their thousands of dollars of investment on design and plantings literally drying up. If a client stated they would make sure they would take responsibility for the watering of the finished landscaping, the company would decline the project. The company had allowed this argument to win in the past, and then later had very unhappy clients with brown or wilting landscapes because they did not hold up their end of the bargain. The owner determined for the sake of his company’s reputation and his client’s best interests, the irrigation system would no longer be an option, but a non-negotiable. 


Chick-fil-A has made being closed on Sundays a non-negotiable, reinforcing its emphasis on honoring family and a day of rest. In spite of this, it is still among the most successful fast food chains with 43 consecutive years of positive sales growth. 


A remanufactured cartridge company owner refused to split cartridges in its process to assure its internal environmental and quality standards. This same company is now producing recycled cartridges that perform better than brand new OEMs at significantly less resulting in national contracts with Fortune companies. 


So how can you determine what is non-negotiable to set you apart? Take a look at your business and answer some of these questions:



1. Critical to end result: What about your product or service is so important to the end result that if missed, it will sacrifice quality or affect its delivery outcome? When you tie your non-negotiable standard to an end result, it is hard for a customer to refute without appearing that they what to cut corners. And if they do, then they are not a customer you will enjoy working with. Don't allow them to talk you into skipping a critical step of your process just to save them a little time or money. That is a big red flag that they are not an ideal customer. 


2. Uncovers critical insights: Is there a particular step in your approach or process that you use in working with a client that regularly uncovers critical insights needed to get the answers you need? The key here is to help them understand what they may be missing without it, and what they can gain with it. Using case studies here is along with targeted testimonials can help ensure that it is worth the customer embracing for the value it will bring. 


3. A unique proven system: Do you have a system established that your competitors do not possess that has proven essential to your and your clients' success? In this case, you would also want to protect it as intellectual property so it creates a sense of proprietary advantage that reinforces to the customer  that they cannot get your approach anywhere else. 


4. Avoiding mistakes: Have you identified common mistakes made by customers prior to engaging your services or using your products that you have addressed and can help them avoid? This is a tricky one, but also a powerful one. When your non-negotiable links to helping your customer avoid something, you need to make sure that it is something they truly want to avoid. 


5. Quality assurance and control: Is there a unique component or step in your product development or service delivery that is key to it exceeding performance or quality standards? When high performance and quality are paramount to your customers, then demonstrating and key step or phase in your process elevates the deliverable to an even higher standard than competitors makes this non-negotiable attractive and preferred. This is especially impactful if it will also help the customer have an advantage over its competition. 


Most important of all with your non-negotiables is that they will ultimately benefit the customer in a way that a competitor cannot. Any non-negotiable should be backed with clear rationale and compelling success stories that will engage your customers with a feeling that they simply cannot go anywhere else.


Sherré DeMao is author of the nationally acclaimed books, 50 Marketing Secrets of Growth Companies in Down Economic Times,, Me, Myself & Inc.,, and Dream Wide Awake. Her column seeks to help business owners build and grow sustainable enterprises and businesses with economic value and preference in the marketplace.