Each month in this column series I ask a different question to you, the ExitEvent Entrepreneur. Thought provoking questions that are meant to get you to sit back and think. Each month I offer insight into the question, along with common mistakes made by (us) entrepreneurs, and a key take-away for you to think more about. My goal—to increase your self-awareness as an entrepreneur and a leader.
Insight—Unique selling proposition. Differentiator. Competitive advantage. These are different phrases and terms that all come back to the same question: what does your organization do better than your competition?
When you decided to start your business, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you thought you could develop and sell your products, services and solutions to your customers and that they would be superior to the competition. Of course you did—that is what entrepreneurs do and that is what makes us great. We are confident risk-takers with new and better stuff to bring to the marketplace. Let’s face it, if we don’t believe we are the best, how could we possibly convince the marketplace to believe us?
Common Mistake made—We know that the #1 reason we become entrepreneurs is freedom. Freedom to do what we want, when we want and where we want without people telling us what to do. I get it. I did it too…in the beginning. But then I learned. Business is not about us, business is about the customer. My passionate focus on developing products and solutions that I wanted to bring to the marketplace was just the starting point. Guess who else thought they were the best and that they were developing the superior product, service, solution, etc.? Your competition. And they still do today.
All of us need to understand that the ultimate decision of our entrepreneurial venture rests with the customer, not us. We are just the developer. We can be the best salesperson, the best marketer, the best whatever. But in the end, if we don’t meet the need of the customer and meet it better than the competition, then we lose, no matter the passion we bring to our company.
If your sales pitch includes words that your competition can easily match, then you don’t have a defendable differentiator, you simply have a feature or benefit of your solution that is probably similar to your competition. And you have a huge risk of commoditization if a price war breaks out with similar solutions.
Key Take-away—Imagine your #1 potential customer, your “whale”. Leaders there have invited you and your top two competitors to their conference room for final presentations on how each solution can meet their needs. Do you know what you are going to say, how you are unique? And better yet, do you know what your competitors are going to say, and how they are uniquely positioned to win?
Winners in the long term build companies that provide solutions for their customers that are unique. They can clearly state differentiators that are truly defendable, those that their competitors can’t match. Any one of us can win a sale or two or 20 with sheer willpower and tenacity. To build an organization for the long term takes more. It takes differentiators that are defendable.
So what advice can I give you? Go back and look at your best presentation—the one you are using for your whale. If you are using words that include quality and service, then sit back and ask yourself if your competition can say exactly the same thing. And be honest with yourself. In the words of Jim Collins, confront the brutal facts!
Quality and service are just two of the words you should never use unless you can back them up with awards or recognition that is truly defendable: “We were rated by Consumer Digest as the product with the #1 quality three years in a row”. Now that is defendable. What is not? To simply say, “you are going to love the quality of our product—we are the best in the industry”. Do you really think your competition can’t and won’t say the exact same thing?
Go back and look hard at that winning presentation, and be ready and able to defend your solutions to your whale.