Differentiate or Die: Standing out in a World Full of Vanilla.
By David Goldsmith
Tuesday, 13th July 2010
How are you differentiating your organization and its offerings from your competition?

If you had to list the five reasons why people buy from (or join) your organization, would your reasons be much different than your competitors?

'Superior quality,' 'exceptional service,' and 'competitive pricing' might keep you in the game, but they'll never differentiate you enough to guarantee the win.

When I've asked clients or audience members to list their five reasons and then swap lists with the person sitting next to them, participants quickly realize that their list lacks uniqueness and that any list in the room could be their own.

In this article, I will give you some practical ways that you can differentiate your organization in both the short term and long term.

SHORT TERM: Improving Your Five Reasons

  • Perform the Five-Reasons-Why Exercise: Write down the five reasons why people currently buy from your organization.
  • Refine the Reasons: Refine each reason by adding specificity. For example, instead of "great service," try "three-hour response time" or "126% faster service than industry competitors." In terms of time frame, you may be able to refine some reasons (or discover new ones altogether!) instantaneously, while others may require months to develop and reword properly.
LONG TERM: Continually Differentiating

Staying ahead of competitors is an ongoing challenge that will require you to make decisions IN THE PRESENT that will produce wins IN THE FUTURE. I will walk you through three surprisingly simple yet effective areas that will take your thinking from the present and stretch it forward into the future.

First, I will introduce you to the terms Order Qualifiers and Order Winners so that you can build upon your current list of "five reasons why."

Next, you will learn about Forecasted Winners to begin your mental shift from present-day to future-oriented thinking.

Finally, I will walk you through practical activities you can do starting today to completely transform your organization's "five reasons why."

Order Qualifiers and Order Winners

Terry Hill, a London Business School professor and manufacturing expert, came up with the concept of Order Qualifiers and Order Winners. In a nutshell:

  • Order Qualifiers are generic entry-level characteristics that essentially place organizations and their offerings on par with others like them in their marketplace. Qualifiers alone do not guarantee sales and wins, because they are not differentiating characteristics. Examples: phone and email connections, compliance with legal and government standards, a website, accounting processes, and product, services, information, or generic features relative to quality and service, etc.
  • Order Winners differentiate organizations and tip the scales in your favor. These specific characteristics, typically determined by an industry or sector, earn sales, memberships, grants, and other desired returns. They include patents, licenses, innovative new products, and can differ within industries and sectors; Winners for a 4-star hotel will be different than winners for a 1-star hotel and winners for a tax attorney will be different than winners for a personal-injury attorney.
Forecasted Winners

To keep ahead of the other players in your space, you need to be on the lookout for regressing Winners as you're working on your next list of Winners. That's why I've taken Hill's concept further and am providing you with Forecasted Winners.
  • Forecasted Winners force you to develop tomorrow's "five reasons why," before today's Winners downslide into Qualifiers by helping you determine what the marketplace will want tomorrow with some degree of certainty?
The Process of Developing Forecasted Winners

Begin Forecasting: Watch trends and patterns within and (more importantly) outside your industry: new products and services, geopolitically-driven changes in thought, emerging technologies, etc. Pay attention to pattern changes in consumer buying, pop culture, weather, economics, and so on.

Revisit your Winners: Continually review Order Winners to see how they may already be out of date or on a fast decline so that you're not caught off guard.

Get active: Be a part of a trade association, discussion boards and forums, and other types of groups that offer the newest details about changes on the horizon. Groups like the World Future Society focus on tomorrow rather than on today, forcing you to think about the future.

Be global: Learn about global markets through the web, newspapers, and books to discover new-to-you ways of operating and generating creative ways to improve your offerings. Success rates for products designed for an international market achieved 85% success rate compared to 43% of those without. (Research: Cooper and Kleinschmidt) Use what you learn to identify up-and-coming threats before they make an actual impact.

Gather Competitive Intelligence: Collect, assemble, interpret and distribute information about customers, competitors, products, threats, and opportunities to leadership throughout your organization.

Tap great minds: Surround yourself with a group of trusted people inside and outside the organization—members of your current management team, respected colleagues, mentors, etc.—with whom you can develop a mutually-beneficial exchange of dialog and ideas to come up with Forecasted Winners.

Expand your perspective: Competitors aren't just entities that offer the same products and services that your organization offers; any source that detracts buyers from spending their money with you is a competitor. For example, video-rental companies also vie for discretionary dollars against YouTube, Apple ITunes as well as your local ski resort, your kids' day camp, and so on. What types of Winners are these untraditional competitors offering that you might be able to adopt?

Conduct "Future" Meetings: Once a month, have a meeting solely designed to discuss "what ifs," connect the dots from data that has been collected, and to ideate innovative Forecasted Winners. UPS connected dots using computerized technology to plan right-hand-turn routes that saved 28.5 million driving miles and three million gallons of fuel in 2006. (04/2007 abcnews.go.com Rooney).

Avoid the Commodity Crutch: Don't get stuck in thinking that you're a commodity; in every sector and industry, there are always differentiators. You have five warehouses, $40 million in inventory and a one-day shipping guarantee in comparison to your competition who has two warehouses, $10 million in inventory and no one-day shipping guarantee. Sure, you're both offering the same product, but the firm that isn't struggling with debt and missed deadlines (your competitor, of course) is the one that will ultimately win more often if positioned correctly.

The key to developing Winners with staying power is to pull your thinking out of the present and project it into the future. Using the tips above, you should be able to come up with at least five differentiated reasons why people buy from your organization. Use those reasons as a rallying call internally, for marketing and sales externally, and to make improvements throughout your organization to keep it standing out from the crowd.

David Goldsmith, is a consultant, speaker, author, and professor who is known worldwide for improving decision makers' individual and corporate performance. Mr. Goldsmith has provided results for Fortune 200 CEOs, was recognized as NYU's Outstanding Professor the Year, was named one of Successful Meetings Magazine's 26 Hottest Speakers, and was awarded CNY's Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

To learn how you can improve your performance using these award-winning proven strategies and tactics, check out www.davidgoldsmith.com, email david@davidgoldsmith.com
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