Your competitors can hire the same people, buy the same materials and use the same machines as you. Your outcomes are dependent on these things – so how can you ensure your product is more interesting, desirable or different enough to win out over the competition?
Processes and the competition
Think about it like this: Imagine you and a friend are making a cake. You both have the exact same ingredients and the same model of the same oven pre-heated to the same temperature. The only thing stopping you from getting identical cakes is the way you put the ingredients together and the length of time you cook them for. The actual process of making the cake itself is the only thing that changes.
You and your direct competitors may be the same. You’re hiring from the same talent pool, often in the same country. Indeed, you may have lost some of your employees to that organisation, and attracted some of theirs.
However, while the inputs – the core elements of your business – may be the same, it is the combination of how they are put together that makes the difference to your customers. A competitor can copy each individual feature, but not the whole.
In marketing terms, we refer to this as our core competencies. Core competencies are the things we do that add value for customers, are unique to us as a business and are hard for competitors to imitate. Our core competencies provide a sustainable competitive advantage.
So what happens if your competitors are delivering a better service or more desirable product when they have the same starting point as you?
Then it’s time to look at your processes.
Identify areas to improve
By identifying what you are doing wrong, what is causing the business to waste time or money and what your competitors are doing better you can start to make changes for the better. That is where continuous improvement comes in.
Continuous improvement, business improvement, process excellence – call it what you want, the aim is to provide businesses with the skills and tools they need to effectively audit what they are doing at the moment, assess it, and make it better: All in a methodical manner.
By taking the time to improve your internal culture you can improve your customer service. Reducing waste in your processes can save money, giving you more to invest in increasing quality or innovation.
Most importantly, though, business improvement approaches like Lean Six Sigma also increase your focus on what is important to the customer, rather than what you think they want. Voice of the customer exercises and market research is rarely carried out often enough and many companies fall into the trap of thinking their customers want the same thing they’ve always wanted, without bothering to ask.
Speaking to your customers will help you identify which processes you should focus on to achieve the best result. They’ll highlight where you’re disappointing them, and where you have the opportunity to delight them.
With better internal processes, an improvement culture and a greater understanding of your customers, you’ll be able to exceed your competition. Just how having a fantastic recipe would help you make a better cake than your friend, and you don’t even have to change your ingredients to get started.