Ignore Your Competition
The previous posts in this series are here:
Part 3: The Power of Differentiation
There are a handful of things we do in business that people simply assume they must do. For many people, analyzing the competition is on that list. But I encourage you to ask WHY. Why would you analyze your competition? What do you have to gain from it?
The only general reason I can think of is so you can be more like them. And that only makes sense if they are doing significantly better than you. At last, we might have a legit reason to spend energy on the competition rather than your clients.
But wait. If someone's doing so much better than you that you want to emulate them, don't you already know what to do? After all, they've got a great marketing process, a great sales process, great products and services, great employees, and a killer cloud offering. Right?
So what you need to do is make sure you've got all those things.
But please note: You don't want to be just like them. That path leads to only one place - being second best to the company you're trying to copy. In other words, you'll be a bad copy of them. Not quite as good. Not quite as successful. Not quite as profitable.
Let's take a step back. Remember, there are no secrets in success. Everyone knows what they need to do. And that means that you know what you need to do. Now you just need to go do it. Copying your competition won't help.
Ultimately, you have to find something different to do. I don't mean an alternative to cloud services, security, and strategic planning. If you're in the IT business, that's essentially the job. I mean finding a different way to Be You in this industry.
What makes you stand out?
Please don't give me the easy BS that everyone puts on their web site. It's not your technical prowess or your extreme customer service. Everyone says that. What is it really? What makes you you?
When I teach SOPs (standard operating procedures) or marketing, I always come back to this simple truth: Your brand is not your logo or your color scheme. Your brand is everything you do. Your brand is the way you show up to client meetings. It's your processes and procedures. It's how you invoice and how you pay your employees. It's how you execute a first client project. It's how you deliver consistency and consistently good support.
How do you do that? I'll bet you don't know.
You have something that makes you different and got you where you are today. You need to boil that down and put it on paper. You need to focus on your brand. The process of figuring that out will require you to set aside many assumptions. Examine every single thing you do. Don't say, "It can't be our billing process." Or, "It can't be our offering." Examine everything.
Hidden somewhere among all your processes and procedures, there's a golden nugget. What is it that truly, honestly, makes your company different? Put your energy into finding that. You will probably get a lot of help from your clients. After all, they can see what makes you different more clearly than you can.
In all of this, I encourage you to be completely open. Tell everyone what you're up to. You want to find what makes you different so you can take that out in the marketplace and find more people who want to do business your way.
And here's an interesting twist: Don't worry that your competition will copy you. First, no one's paying attention to you. Sorry for the ego stomp. But it's true. Second, your competition will not copy you. They're too busy and they're not following you either.
So relax and go figure out who you are.
I know you've heard many presentations encouraging you to find your USP - Unique selling proposition. You obviously can't be unique if you copy someone else. You are unique simply because you ARE unique. The real job is defining it and declaring it.
The job is not to BE unique (your already are). The job is to find your uniqueness so you can build your marketing around it. You've probably read a lot of business histories. Whether it's Spanx, Henry Ford, or a hundred others, differentiation did not come from examining the competition. In all cases, successful business people created something that they thought was missing, or something they thought people needed.
The new thing was rarely new technology. It was either a change that filled a void, or it was a process that delivered goods and services in a new way. On rare occasions, it was a price point. In most cases, the new thing started when someone noticed that some thing could be improved. Very often, it addressed a dissatisfaction on the part of the buyer.
A great example is CarMax. They saw that people hated car shopping because they felt like the entire industry was built around ripping off the customer and sticking them with a car they paid too much for. So they restructured the process. First, they eliminated the information gap and displayed car inspection details and the Kelly Blue Book price of every vehicle on the vehicle. Second, they eliminated all motivations for sales people to upsell the buyer. Sales people get paid per sale, no matter the dollar amount. And, third, they offered a remarkable five day, no-limit return policy. So they eliminated the fear of buyer's remorse.
In all that, CarMax didn't change much about car buying. You need to poke around. You need to test drive. You need to get financing. They couldn't change most things. But in changing a few things, they created a totally new experience for the buyer.
Unfortunately, our industry is old enough to have plenty of bad habits. I sometimes worry that clients look at us like the car industry and find too many similarities. But my clients always paid me happily because they were always well served. What do you do right and different that stands out?
That question - because it's so client-focused - is worth spending a lot of energy on.