We’ve all heard it said that perception is reality. But the fact is our perception (or, rather misconception) of reality can be a real problem.

Recently, I asked one of my clients what their strengths were. They stated five or so assets that they felt provided very strong advantages when compared to their competition. They also thought some of the tools they had developed were second to none. In addition, they felt that a number of integrity-oriented principles were so superior to their competitors that most of their clients wouldn’t even consider dealing with anyone else. And, of course, they were certain their clients would back them up.

As my firm often does, we conducted an informal, anonymous survey. We phoned some of the client’s customers, telling them we were calling on behalf of one of their vendors. We then identified the vendor, assuring the customer their input would remain anonymous and would not be a part of any written survey. (We do this in order to extract the most honest, unbridled responses.)

As it happens, sometimes when we uncover the actual truth, we discover a vast gap between perception and reality. Or, as in this case, my client’s perception as to its customer’s affinity towards them. Upon completion of the survey, we found that most didn’t believe that my client’s assets were assets at all. As a matter of fact, some thought that one or two of the assets were threats to them.

With regard to my client’s values, the customers surveyed really didn’t see them as something that entered into their bottom-line decision making with regard to both profitability and vendor selection. So, what we have is an organization that thoroughly believes they are distinctively superior to their competitors in certain areas. But what we learned is that these perceptions are far from reality.

So why the disconnect? What we typically uncover is that communication to customers usually falls short. We fail to communicate to them the reasons why we do some of the things we do. We fail to communicate the investments we make in assets in order to make their life easier. And, we fail to communicate the value of our product or service so that each particular client can decide, “This is a really good thing for my company, and there’s a lot of benefits.”

How do we go about fixing this problem? First, before developing tools and assets for clients which we think are creating a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) or advantage, we should first talk to the clients. Ask them what would be something that would be great for them to have, and, if they have a few ideas, ask the client would this be a big benefit to you? And find out exactly what they would like to experience if you could wave a magic wand. Oftentimes, what’s uncovered is that what we think our client wants and what they really need are two different things.

The next step? Once we determine our assets and USP, we need to make sure we clearly communicate these benefits in terms of what they provide to the customer. Whether it’s increased profitability or better value or increased reliability, we need to clearly communicate that benefit on a consistent basis. It may not necessarily be one singular message, but it’s a consistent message. And don’t be afraid to put a dollar value to it. Because a product that is inferior, unreliable, or must be returned, cost companies huge amounts of money every day. If you can eliminate that risk, this savings goes directly to your client’s bottom line.

Famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham once said, “What people in the world think of you is really none of your business.” But truth be told, through proper, consistent benefits-based communication, you can make it your business.

That’s Q from the Street.

Anthony Quaranta is the president of Q Group, Hauppauge, N.Y.