By Dr. Tony Alessandra

Companies who don’t understand their competitive advantage say things like, “Our product is better quality,” or, “Our service is better.”

Even if a company has better quality or better service, it won’t convince anyone just by saying so, because many of its competitors will be saying the exact same thing. You have to define quality or show how your service differs from the competition. In other words, determine your competitive advantage.

Four distinct categories

  • Competitive uniqueness. What can I do for my customers that no one else can do? What can I offer that no one else can offer?

Competitive uniqueness exists if a pharmaceutical company receives U.S. FDA approval to sell a new drug. Since no one else has that drug, the company now has a competitive uniqueness.

  • Competitive advantage. What can I do for my customers that my competitor can also do—but that I can do better and prove it?

Where two companies market the same drug, but one is large and well-known with wide name recognition and the other is a small and relatively unknown firm, the first has competitive advantage. If none exists in your product (like RO-treated bottled water), try to focus on your company’s reputation, your excellent service, your responsiveness and reliability—or any other factors that can positively differentiate you from your competition.

  • Competitive parity. Objectively speaking, my competitors and I are the same—is there no real differentiation?

What things are the same between your product and your competitors’, but are still important to the customer? Birth control pills are a good example. Several ethical drug companies make different formulations, but all with similar records for preventing pregnancy.

  • Competitive disadvantages. Where does my competition have an advantage over me?

To continue our pharmaceutical examples here, your product might have more side effects than your competitors’ products.

By doing this analysis, you’ll be in a position to help your customers distinguish between you and your competition. In order to discover your competitive advantage, you may have to do some intelligence gathering. Talk to your customers—and to your own sales people. Read the local newspapers and attend trade shows. Build a file of your competitors’ marketing and product information. Watch the market trends in your industry and become an expert on your product and on how your product can help your customers.

So far we’ve looked at competition… but to succeed requires competence.

True meaning
Main Entry: com·pe·tent. Pronunciation: ‘käm-p -t nt. Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English, suitable, from Anglo-French & Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin competent-, competens, from present participle of competere
1: proper or rightly pertinent 2: having requisite or adequate ability or qualities: FIT <a competent teacher> <a competent piece of work> 3: legally qualified or adequate <a competent witness> 4: having the capacity to function or develop in a particular way; specifically : having the capacity to respond (as by producing an antibody) to an antigenic determinant (immunologically competent cells) synonym see SUFFICIENT; com·pe·tent·ly adverb.

Competence goes beyond having a specific expertise. It certainly means being knowledgeable and skillful in your field. But it also means possessing a problem-solving ability that goes beyond your own specialty. If you don’t know the answer or how to fix the problem, with competence you know how to go about getting someone who does.

Competence means having a can-do attitude and following through with it. We all know incompetence when we see it!

Exhibiting competence in knowing what you’re doing, or knowing how to get something done, is communicated to others in a variety of ways. There’s the obvious level of actually being able to do what you say and can do. Your nonverbals (how you look, the sound of your voice) go a long way toward conveying competence. So does the style of behavior you choose. Do you come across as a very casual person or as someone who’s professionally exacting? Notice I said, “the style of behavior you choose,” because you do have a choice.

Choosing it
And that’s my tip on competence: you can choose to behave in a way that exudes competence, or you can choose to undercut what skills you do have by looking and acting as if you’re not sure of yourself.

Your ability to gain influence with other people is dependent on how they see you: whether they judge you to be trustworthy and whether they think you really know what you’re talking about or can manage the tasks you claim you can accomplish. You’ll go a long way toward gaining that trust when you’re able to impress others with your competence.

In conclusion, knowing and being able to articulate your competitive advantages sets you apart from your competition and clearly shows your customers what your company can do for them that no one else can.

About the author
Dr. Tony Alessandra has authored 13 books, recorded over 50 audio and video programs and delivered over 2,000 keynote speeches since 1976. The ideas in this article and many others are adapted from his book, “The Sales Professional’s Idea-A-Day Guide” published by Dartnell. If you would like to order a copy, or learn more about Alessandra, visit his website, or call his office toll free 1-800-222-4383.



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