Misguided Competitive Advantage

Much is written on competitive advantage. The amazon.com website brings up 1000s of search results in the books section alone. My second book, The Secret To Selling More, discusses it, and my third book (along with Ralph Mroz), Value Acceleration, has competitive advantage in its subtitle.

Many of the newer books on competitive advantage, and many self-proclaimed experts on the subject, write and speak extensively on the need and value of finding your competitive advantage. I agree.

What one means by the term competitive advantage is where we greatly differ. Variations on the idea of competitive advantage go back decades and include phrases like “unique selling proposition” or USP. Experts have known for a very long time that to succeed in the market, you must have a difference. I agree.

What constitutes a competitive advantage is where I part ways with many other self-proclaimed experts. Too many of them have you focus on what you do that makes you different. They push you to figure out what you do that makes you different? Who cares, with the possible exception of your mother?

It’s not about what you do, it’s about what the customer gets! Ruth’s Chris serves your steak on a 500 degree plate. So what (other than keep your hands off of it)? What you get is an experience where every bite is as delicious as the first. Meanwhile Morton’s proudly notes they have no secrets because they have all been published. Who cares about either. What am I getting is all that matters.

Most customers don’t care what you do (some aficionados might). They care about what they are getting. Once they get that some may choose to learn more about how you do it to add to the experience. But the real competitive advantage does not come from knowing what you do, it comes from knowing what the customer is buying from you they don’t feel they can get anywhere else.

Stop focusing on you and focus on your customer. What are they getting or believe they are getting from you they can’t get elsewhere.

Several years ago they asked a “loyal” Lexus owner why he was trading in his Lexus to buy a Mercedes. He noted the Lexus was the best car he had ever owned and the dealer was unsurpassed. Both of which should have created a competitive advantage according to many. His answer tells the story: “People look at you differently when you drive a Mercedes.” Maybe not what you care about, but plenty of Mercedes owners do, including the woman in my neighborhood whose personalized plate says 4 MY EGO.

Stop focusing on what you do. That’s not where competitive advantage lies. Understand what the customer is buying … and leverage the heck out of it.


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