December 8, 2011 Business, Executive, Leadership

Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

To survive and prosper, small and midsize companies must establish a marketing presence based upon a sustainable competitive advantage.

I often speak with company owners and CEO’s that want to grow their organizations, but don’t know how to take the next step.  It’s difficult when you’ve worked so hard to build your current business to slow down enough to look what’s next.

So where do you start?

Examine your Marketing Presence.  This is the message your organization communicates to its prospect and customer base.  Is your message effective?  To be effective, the message should be clear and simple — and contain the key attributes you want associated with your business.

What is your Competitive advantageThe sum of those attributes that differentiate your business from its competitors. This is your core competence. You develop, build and enhance it through a clear understanding of your customers’ wants and needs. You implement it through a strategic plan (a directional compass) that can help you quickly adapt to changes in their wants and needs.

Is it Sustainable? Can it keep in existence, maintain and affirm the validity of, support the spirit, vitality and resolution of, encourage, endure and withstand. Only through your continuous understanding of what makes your business competitive can your business survive and prosper. GE’s former CEO, Jack Welch, once said, “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

Since it takes two — a buyer and a seller — to make a sale, the reason for establishing a viable marketing presence is for your business to be on the prospective buyer’s “short list” when the buyer is ready to buy. You want to be sure that your company is among those being evaluated when the prospect’s need arises.

When you think about your competitive advantage, consider that in your prospect’s mind your company “fits” into some category.  For example, you are either a “low-cost” or “value-added” supplier. A low-cost supplier is categorized as one who consistently provides a lower cost with acceptable quality. A value-added supplier provides a differentiated product or service that contains substantial attributes which command a premium price.

Likewise, you are either a “generalist” or a “specialist”. A generalist is categorized as having a broad scope — serving all types of customers in an industry or geographical area, offering a broad range of products or services.  A specialist focuses on specific products or services and dedicates all efforts to that one niche or market segment.

The key element in your thinking should be to make a difference. You must take the risk to create a recognizable choice from your rival companies.  Your worst error here would be to imitate rival companies or being all things to all people.

As you think strategically about establishing or re-establishing your market presence, consider this process:

Conceptualize your strategy — this is pure and analytical. Engineer general agreement to the strategy — here you are muddling over the practicality of what you want to do and sharing your ideas with others and getting their input.  You might also seek the help of a business coach during this period.

Prepare a mission statement and business plan — to discover and clarify what business you are in and how you plan to approach it.

Communicate the statement and plan — both internally and externally.

Live the plan — if all the steps feel right, start to implement the plan — but with the full expectation, knowledge and intent (this is really important) you will continuously adjust and adapt it to market changes.