Stop trying to be better than the competition and start figuring out how you can be better and different than your competition.
Many business owners or would-be start-ups sit around trying to figure out how they can be better than the competition – better product, better service, better features, and, the real killer, better price. Some even strive to be “best” in class. What they should be doing is figuring out how they can truly be different than the competition.
I’m not against lofty goals – the problem is creating a better product or service isn’t easy. Often, prospects won’t take the time to understand the subtle differences that make your product or service better, and you might spend all of your time and energy trying to educate them when all they want to know is the price. If you’ve even wondered why prospects are choosing your competitors over your obviously superior offering, you may have just a hint of appreciation for what I’m saying here.
“Better than the competition” is the enemy of “different than the competition,” and different is where the money is! Instead of trying to be better or exactly alike, build a strategy around a simple way that your company is definably different from the pack.
Analyze the competition
You can visit last week’s post here for some great tools on competitive research, and the Duct Tape Blog offers an entire section dedicated solely to competition. But here’s a simple exercise you can try to get some insight on your competitors’ strategies and where you stand in comparison:
1. Visit your top 5 competitor’s sites and read through their “About Us” pages.
2. Create a new document in Word, Excel, or Google Docs (or whatever program you use/prefer) and plug in their “About Us” page overview. Do the same for your site.
3. Now, go through each entry and delete any mentions of company names.
4. Read through descriptions and highlight some of the common themes you see throughout. I’m guessing “great customer service” and “years of experience” might be mentioned in a few of them.
5. Share it with your team or anyone that understands your business and see if they can correctly identify your description as well as the descriptions from your competitors.
This exercise alone will show you if and how you stand out, but it’s more likely to show you the sameness that exists in your industry and the opportunity you now have to create a difference.
Ask your customers
Knowing what your customers want and giving them exactly that is the best way to stand out.
Customers are the most important asset of any business. So, why not hear it directly from them? Sure, there’s always the option of sending out a mass survey, and this is a great way to get a general idea of what they want. But, if your business is more services oriented, it might be better to sit down with them or get them on the phone. Choose 10-15 of your best clients (most profitable and refer you the most) and interview them. Ask them about their experience with your company and how they think you can make it even better.
Here are some ideas for questions you can ask:
- Why did you choose us in the first place?
- Why do you stay with us?
- What do we do that others don’t?
- What could we be doing for you that we currently don’t?
Know your advantage
When asked what makes them different, a lot of companies will say, “well, we are different because we have a better product, or we offer better service.” Really, and do your competitors all suggest they offer crappy service?
We can debate the countless intricate ways that companies can use to create a strategy of difference, but it all pretty much boils down to:
- Better product
- Better process
- Better relationships
In my opinion focusing all of your strategic thinking, goal setting and actions on building a better process or better relationships is the surest and simplest way to create a true competitive advantage. Would you rather lean on your 5% better product or price or on something so totally outrageous and innovative that people can’t stop talking about it?
Creating your special way to treat customers, creating an experience that’s unique, or creating a totally new and frictionless way for people to get a result is how you stand out from the pack and it’s how you create a difference that can’t be easily copied. It’s how innovation comes to small business.
Instead of spending your precious R&D time on product features, spend it on creating branded intellectual property, a distinct way of marketing, or on developing people and culture inside your organization that enables you to be seen as different.