A couple of weeks ago, I met with a recently appointed chief executive who wanted to test some ideas in his quest to identify the company's USP (unique sales proposition) and, therefore, its point of difference. Paul's concern was that the company was operating in a crowded and competitive marketplace without a coherent strategy, and that success was dependent on standing out. We had a fascinating conversation—the essence of which is repeated here because Paul's question seems to be topical (I have just come off a phone call with a chairman (different company) who posed a very similar question).
I asked Paul to describe the company and summarise the present reality. He recounted the company's past successes, current capabilities, market position and strong product line. Then he said that market share had drifted downwards in recent years. After sipping my coffee, I asked Paul why the company existed. He looked blankly at me as if I had come down in the last rain shower. "To make a healthy profit, of course".
"Of course", I said. "I expected to hear that. But doesn't every company have that goal? How does being different serve this goal, especially when barriers to entry are so low these days that difference is only temporary, at best?
"Apart from serving our collective egos, that you have something different (or even unique) to offer is of little consequence to most busy people. It matters even less when a competitor offers something seemingly similar for a lower price. When this happens, it's a race to the bottom—and that's dumb. Shouldn't your motivation be to make a difference and help your clients achieve their goals? With this in mind, might a better objective be to identify your company's 'point of impact'? In my experience, people choose to embrace your ideas and buy your product because they believe in you and what you represent. Imagine the response if MLK had uttered "I have a plan"—that speech would have been a footnote, gathering dust in the annals of history. But he didn't."
The conversation moved to other matters. Then, as we finished our coffees, Paul smiled knowing that he had some work to do. I wished him well and we parted ways.
Do you know why your company exists? The next time your board and executive gathers to review strategy and set future goals, start by asking this question. I respectfully suggest that you don't move on until a lucid answer is both determined and agreed.
Thoughts on corporate governance, strategy and the craft of board work; our place in the world; and, other things that catch my attention.