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Finding Your Competitive Edge

Sep 12, 2008
What are the characteristics of organizational excellence, the attributes that must be present for your company to survive and prosper in the 21st. Century?

Your company's long term success depends on where you are in the mind of your customers, whether you think they have the right impression of your organization or not. When your customers and potential customers measure you, based on their perception of what makes a company worthy of their patronage - you had better measure up or you will be left out.

Each of the attributes of successful companies must be present, to one degree or another, if you expect to succeed. Some organizations by their nature or the nature of their industry and products will find one characteristic more important than another but they all must be present to win.

The quality of your products and services is always a critical element. Companies in rural Nebraska compete with their counterparts in Hong Kong. UPS and FedEx level the playing field when it comes to the products you make or distribute. The Internet means you have a competitor open doing business every hour of every day.

If you can't deliver or if your product is inferior you will lose the business. Maybe you won't lose the first order, but you will lose the second, third, and so on. What is the reputation of your products in the eyes of the marketplace? Are they seen as good, better, or best? For the vast majority of companies, it is the quality of your products and services that gives you your competitive edge.

Offering world class value to your customers doesn't mean that you are necessarily the cheapest, fastest, or best alternative. It does mean that the face, the attitude, your employees display to your prospects and customers must project that you care about them and about their business. When people know their business is appreciated they will give you the benefit of the doubt.

Always be innovating. Product, service, and marketing innovation that sets you apart from your competition is a key element of success. Advertising experts say that for a product to be "new and improved" it only has to be 10% different than it was before. We all know of situations where the 10% was 100% perception.

Innovation doesn't mean you have to reinvent your product or your service as long as you create the impression that you are making it better - different than it was. Often innovative marketing is all you need. Marketing ideas that cast your products, your services, and your organization in a new light - as innovators.

One of the most effective ways to innovate is to spend time talking to your industry peers, those far outside your traditional marketing area - at an association event of via your regularly scheduled peer group meetings. The giant companies call this competitive intelligence gathering but we know it's just common sense to speak regularly with other successful business owners in and out of our industry to see what they are doing that's working and consider how it just might work for us.

Every member of your organization should be speaking regularly with their counterparts for innovation at every level. The beauty of association meetings is that there are sessions for everyone, ever functional area is represented by leaders and experts. The brainstorming at these meetings by everyone from the Board Room to the shipping department will provide fresh innovative perspectives to take home and to continue to discuss in the mastermind peer groups throughout your organization.

Customers are looking at your financial soundness. In the rarefied world of public companies, where financial information is broadcast far and wide to attract investors, it's easy to see if the company you're considering doing business with has the financial staying power that assures you they will be around after the warranty runs out. But what about the 99% of the companies on the earth that are privately held or family owned?

Companies like yours do not and should not broadcast your financial information to outsiders. Nevertheless you must provide your prospects and customers with the feeling that you will be around. How do you do that? By using your corporate assets and your good will for the genuine benefit of your customers. By showing them that the investments you make are those that make your company better, more responsive to the needs of your customers. In short it's by projecting your confidence in the future of your business so your customers will feel better about choosing you.

Are you committed to your community and demonstrating local environmental responsibility? The more companies and their products and services change the more equal everybody seems. Your objective should be to appear to be first among those equals. There is an old saying that all things being equal, people do business with their friends, but we all know from experience that things being unequal, people still do business with their friends.

Does your community and industry see your company as their friend? Do you go out of your way to do good and help others, always on the lookout for things you can do to benefit the community, the people in your marketplace? Does your company's name mean "reliable" to all the people in the areas you serve?

No matter where you are today, your future will be determined to a great extent on your ability to attract and keep talented people - on the loading dock, in the plant, and in your executive offices. Your potential customers are looking for consistency. Will you be able, in the long run, to keep the promises your people are making today?

Building your company's management bridge to the future means hiring the right people in the first place, training them to do their jobs and eventually they will be able to teach others what they've been taught.Hiring the right people is not as tough as it may seem. Try to remember how inept you were when you started there. Would the person you've become hire the person you were with the skills you had?

What new hires need is a roadmap, dependable procedures to follow, and they need mentors. Mentors inside the company and perhaps industry mentors from organizations like yours, perhaps in another state. Mentors they meet with regularly, people they can reach out to when they are facing something for the first time and everyone is watching to see how they handle it.

It's been interesting to observe that for many companies their keys to success were defined by them years before. It was how they pictured themselves and their company as being in the future. It was how they wanted to be seen by their suppliers, bankers, community, customers, and competitors.

What did you want people to think when they thought about your company? Is that what they think now, really? If it's not, today would be a good day to start again, to return your focus to what you intended in the first place.
About the Author
Wayne Messick reports on how Main St. businesses are poised to succeed in the 21st Century on his blog
www.WayneMessick.com His updated peer-to-peer collaboration report can be found at
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