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Businesses who face tons of competition in a saturated market are always looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. But what is it that truly sets one business apart from its competitors?

Few industries are as competitive as the fitness world. Over the last two months, I've been looking for exercise classes to join, and my experience shopping around at various fitness clubs has led me to ponder the ways that closely related businesses market and promote themselves.

My Experience Shopping in a Crowded Industry

During two months of showing up various fitness clubs and trying them out for a few days, I began to notice the similarities and differences in how the clubs would "sell" to me.

Across the board, all the fitness clubs were welcoming and friendly and eager to get to know me. They all had their unique selling points (a special form of cardio, a unique piece equipment, a trademarked nutrition plan, etc.) And they were all quick to produce testimonials of past or existing clients who achieved their fitness goals.

So far, so similar.

They also all had the same bottom-line goal. They wanted me to sign me up for the lengthiest package they had - usually twelve months.

I did some research and learned that fitness clubs expect you to quit. They maximize their revenue by selling the lengthiest contracts to the most people possible, and then expecting them not to show up.

So, they do everything in their power to make the 12-month contract the most attractive. They offer special promotions, discounts, and giveaways. But they always have their own best interests in mind, not the consumer's.

The Business that Stood out

By the time I was finished with my free trials, I was burned out from hearing the same self-serving pitch over and over again. That's why I was so surprised by what the trainer at the last gym said to me.

“Most gyms are going to tell you to sign up for the twelve-month contract because it's cheapest, but that's not what I'm going to do. If I were you, I'd go with one of the shorter contracts so you can make sure that it's right for you. If you like our club and want to stay on after three or six months, we’ll let you keep coming month-to-month with the twelve-month rate. We only want people to join our club if they really love it and get what they want from it.”

I was floored. By this point, I had heard every type of snazzy sales pitch, but I never heard anyone talk about what I wanted.

His total transparency about who was benefiting from the transaction was also surprising to me. Every other place made it sound like they were offering me a great deal when it was really all about them.

He flipped his sales pitch around to focus on the customer, and that's why he stood out.

The Moral of the Story

Today's buyers respond to authenticity more than anything else. If you really want to set yourself apart from your competitors, make it your strategy to talk to your customers about what's best for them, even if it isn't the most profitable option for you. This is what servant selling means.

Buyers respond to you when you put their interests above your own. That's how you build lasting relationships with your customers and ensure they'll keep coming back to you as a trusted resource in the future.

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Image by Ding Yuin Shan via Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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