Practical Competitive Advantage for SMBs
When we think about Competitive Advantage; we automatically think of Michael Porter, Market Research, TAM, SWOT, Five Forces, Competitive Analysis; or some intensive, expensive project only a few or large organizations can afford. Projects that are both intimidating and overwhelming for SMBs – small-and-medium size businesses.
Competitive Advantage can be intimidating and overwhelming for SMBs.
This article dives into a Practical Competitive Advantage Solution specifically for SMBs.
As Founders, Entrepreneurs, when we start a business, we start it with a certain Dream or Vision in mind. Something fundamental we would like to achieve through the business. Then as time passes and we get caught up in the day-to-day struggles; fighting to win that customer, competing against the competitors, building a team, and adjusting so we can keep up with the changes in the environment; our Dream or Vision fades. The Vision fades because, during the Survival Stage of the business, SMBs are forced to choose between pursuing their Vision and pursuing Sales, meaning going where the money is—an obvious decision for SMBs in survival mode.
This struggle isn’t unique to just SMBs. It is present in all businesses with very few exceptions. Even large organizations like Apple struggled in the first decade of its existence to decide how best to achieve its ‘Founding’ Vision while deciding on how best to operate the business to gain a Competitive Advantage—resulting in Apple losing sight of its Vision over time, due to the compounded effect of None Strategically Coherent Competitive decision.
By 1997, Apple Inc., having gone out of sync with its Vision, resulted in the Historical Pivotal Point in Apple’s History. Despite being advised against it, Steve Jobs made the well-debated decision to cut over 70% of Apple Product lines, streamlining its Product and Operations in line with Apple’s Founding Vision.
Since this decision, the Pivotal Point in Apple’s History, Setting a Strategically Coherent Operating Mandatory Precedence for Apple moving forward, it can be argued that this was the reason behind Apple’s success and why Apple is “The World Most Valuable Company today – 2022.”
Capacity to Execute.
An Organization Capacity to Execute resides in the Leaders’ resourcefulness. Resourcefulness in utilizing the business’s resources to execute Competitive Advantage Strategies to win in the market. To win against the competitors. Not all businesses are created equally, and regardless of a business’s size and resources, all businesses have limitations that constrain business competitiveness in one way or another. Limitations such as:
- Leadership Capabilities,
- Staff Skillset,
- Organization Access to Funding or Money to pursue Competitive Advantage Strategies,
- The Market Access,
- Environmental / Governmental Factors,
Despite the constraints and limitations constricting the business, leaders are responsible for making the best decision for the business, Strategically Coherent Competitive Decision which; Hopefully the Business is Able and Equipped to Execute. The reality is that Leaders are often juggling multiple competing priorities, assessing Opportunity Cost, Cost- Benefits, and Prioritizing what can be compromised without compromising the business’s overall health.
Often, it leads to making decisions with Limited Insights, Limited Knowledge of its Limitations and Constraints, resulting in decisions that the Business may not necessarily have the Capacity to Execute. When the Business’s Capacity to Execute is overestimated, and the business decides to pursue Competitive Advantage Initiatives, it does not have the Capacity to Execute. The business is forced to reassign valuable resources from its Priorities to Initiatives of Lesser Importance. Compromising the Business in one way or another, which, when compounded over time, widens the Strategic Gap and erodes the Business’s Competitive Advantage.
In today’s ever-evolving environment, Leaders are shifting the conversation from Complex Competitive Advantage to; the more manageable Value Proposition. Given that Value Proposition is only a small subset of Competitive Advantage, Value Proposition should not be considered by any means necessary a comprehensive Competitive Advantage Strategy. Also, it is important to note that the more resources and capabilities organizations have, the more comprehensive their Value Proposition or Competitive Advantage Strategies will be.
Technology Disruption is another factor that justifies the shift from Competitive Advantage Strategy to the more economical Value Proposition Strategy. It only makes sense that given the fast pace with which technology is changing the competitive landscape, businesses have opted to NOT invest significant time and money just to develop short-lived strategies.
However, Businesses and SMBs do not have to compromise the business Competitive Advantage, but instead SMBs can adapt their Strategy from executing the Traditional Competitive Advantage Strategy to executing a more Modern Competitive Advantage Strategy.
Modern Competitive Advantage.
Modern Competitive Advantage is a shift in Competitive Advantage Strategy to one that is Executable, Flexible, and Adaptable to the changes in the micro-and-macro environments. Modern Competitive Advantage comprises
- Fuelling your Target Market with Immediate Gratification, while
- Fuelling the Business with Insights to Develop and Maintain Relevance in the Market, and
- Taking Decisive Action.
Fuelling your Target Market with Immediate Gratification.
To Fuel your Target Market with Immediate Gratification means to serve your Current Customers so they experience feelings of Gratitude towards the SMB or Appreciation for the Products/Services purchased. This strategy is based on the fact that everyone loves Recognition and to be Appreciated. This is true regardless of their job, status or position. I have worked in many organizations, and the best and most influential strategy is to genuinely recognize people for their contribution. To Appreciate Their Effort. To Demonstrate Gratitude for their Patronage.
However, it is critical that the strategy you adopt to Fuel your Target Market with Immediate Gratification; is genuine, not fabricated or does not come across as manipulative or disingenuous. If your customer walks away feeling manipulated, it will have the opposite effect, thereby creating a Competitive Disadvantage for the business.
Say My Name.
“Say My Name” is a perfect example of how Starbucks Fuel its Target Market with Immediate Gratitude.
Starbucks appeals to what is most important to a person, their name. With every order, the Starbucks representative is trained to gleefully request the customer’s name for the order, then repeat their name to ensure that they got it right. An act which immediately triggers a feeling of importance in the customer, a sense of being recognized in the most fundamental way; by their name.
The psychology behind this strategy is quite simple, within three seconds or less, the customer went from being unknown to someone with a Name, the Best Name, their Name! This simple act of actively acknowledging someone’s name appeals to the person’s sense of importance, their identity; leaving them with a feel-good feeling. Someone whom people in the immediate vicinity now know by name. Genius, isn’t it? Most people cannot walk away from this experience without feeling a few inches taller.
Now compare the Starbucks ordering experience with that of other Coffee Shops, where the person behind the counter asks what they want, sometimes repeating their order to confirm that they got the order correctly, followed immediately with the price of the order. Regardless of the level of service, the courtesy of the person behind the counter, or the quality of coffee, the Starbucks experience is by far superior to that of the other Coffee Shops; simply because it is personal to the patron.
What is even more impressive with the Starbucks Strategy is that it COST Nothing and is SIMPLE and EASY to Execute. There is no additional training required, no additional material required, and no significant delays to sales turnaround. It can even be argued that it could potentially slow down the line; however, it can also be argued if it slowed down the line, based on the experience and the Starbucks ambiance, the slowed-down line is not noticeable to impact the patrons’ experience.
The Gift is another Common Strategy Organizations use to create a sense of immediate gratification in their customers for their patronage. Recently I had to change my eyeglasses because one night after working on my bed, I rested my glasses on the case with the handles hanging out and managed to accidentally slam shut the case on the handle, damaging the frame. This is my fourth purchase of eyeglasses but my first Appreciative Experience. In all my other experiences, I felt rushed, as if I was at the mercy of the salesperson, and the business rules and regulation designed to make their customers uncomfortable. I left my previous Optometrist feeling slightly deflated, a few hundred dollars short, and a piece of paper to come back within the next few weeks to collect my eyeglasses.
In my last purchase from Optical Connection, the minute I walked in I was greeted by a well-dressed individual eager to serve me, while the entire visit was engaging and attentive to my needs when I walked out, even though a few hundred short with a piece of paper to collect my eyeglasses within the next two weeks, I also walked out with a brown paper gift bag containing items to help me take care of my new eyeglasses. No glasses but a pleasant appreciative experience. Did I feel Gratitude? Most definitely. I was so pleased with Optical Connection service, I decided to move my family over to their practice and tell anyone willing to listen of their exceptional service and Free Gifts.
Fuelling the Business with Insights to Develop and Maintain Relevance in the Market.
An Organization Competitive Advantage Relevance is the business’s ability to continuously improve its Products & Services while evolving the business to continue to survive in the Ever-Changing Competitive Environment.
Traditional management thinking led us to believe that in order for SMBs to transition to a high-performing competitive company, SMBs needed to invest in some expensive transformative project. A project studying the market, identifying what wins and then investing in the People, Resources, Tools, Systems, and/or Partnerships before they can effectively compete. This is not necessarily the case. SMBs can shift their management practice to one which builds insights while executing Small Impactful Strategic yet Competitive Actions that are designed to win customers over while strengthening the organization to win in the short-, and medium; and positioning the business to win in the long term; By Shifting to a Competitive Advantage Management Practice.
A Competitive Advantage Management Practice achieves two things:
- The business adopts a Listening, Learning and Serving Management Practice.
- The leadership Listens to the feedback from their Staff, Competitors and Customers,
- The Leadership Learns from Past Experience, and
- The Leadership adopts a Service Mentality. Serving the needs of their Customers and Staff.
- Management makes continuous Micro-Competitive Improvements to its business.
- The Listening, Learning and Servicing Operating Practice unveils Valuable Competitive Insights that signal exactly what the business must do to be more competitive while staying on its Strategic Path.
Effectively, SMBs cannot compete the way larger organization competes; they lack the capabilities, resources and access available to larger organizations. SMBs must think Economically Strategic, Stay True to their Vision and be willing to Serve at a Higher Level than their competitors are willing to serve.
Taking Decisive Action.
The Harsh Reality is that Businesses that Struggles, more likely than not, Struggles NOT with Strategies but, WITH Execution.
There is an avalanche of reasons why, and often it is not a lack of resources or capabilities but, the perseverance and determination to take Decisive Action. Taking action in the face of uncertainty and taking the next right step.
In my expert opinion, this is often because SMBs are competing in an aggressive and ever-changing environment where information is limited, and SMBs are forced to make decisions littered with uncertainty. A deterrent that causes less risk-averse leaders to hesitate, to procrastinate until they are more assured of their actions. Some assurance that their efforts will lead to some level of desired results, missing out on the opportunity in the process. What is the saying?
“The Early Bird catches the Worm”, the SMB that acts first is more likely to win than the SMB that is waiting for guarantees.
SMBs are interested in becoming more competitive; to Develop & Maintain a Sustainable Competitive Advantage; Listen, Learn, Serve and Take Decisive Actions, making micro-competitive transformational changes to the business. So, the business Products & Services Wows, Wins and continues to Win in an Ever-Changing Competitive Market.
SMBs Capacity to Execute.
It is important at this time to differentiate SMBs’ Capacity to Execute a Sustainable Competitive Advantage from that of larger organizations with the resources, to invest in the relevant Management and Strategy Consulting services to develop a Comprehensive Competitive Advantage Strategy it can execute.
Our recommendation for SMBs and any organization interested in effecting change is to Start with the Organization’s Capacity to Execute. All businesses, regardless of their size are limited in one way or another, and because of this fact, have restrictions that affect the Organization’s Capacity to Execute. An Adaptable, Flexible, Economical Strategy any business can utilize is to Start with Intentionality. The intentions to:
- To Understand the SMB Limitations & Constraints,
- To Understand the SMB’s Capacity to Execute,
- To Develop a Competitive Advantage Management Practice, and
- To Take Decisive Action.
Intentionality comes when the Leadership considers all elements of their Unique Business while focusing on Purposely Developing and Leading a Competitive Business.
Practical Competitive Advantage.
The saying Go Big or Go Home is a convenience only few can afford.
Competitive Advantage Strategies that are based on an intensive study of the business, industry, its trends, competitors, new entrants etc. are all great, but not practical for most SMBs. What is top of mind for most SMBs is survival. How to manage the business to make a profit, retain customers and if they are lucky increase sales. A business, whether an SMB or larger. If the business is consumed with its survival, the SMB isn’t focusing on achieving market dominance, or on weeding out the competition. Survival and that next Sale is Top of Mind.
If the SMB is not on the Decline to the Death Stage of the BLC (Business Life Cycle) and has some room to maneuver for a few more years, then it is NOT too late for the SMB to turn things around. In addition to adopting a Competitive Management Practice, a Practical Competitive Advantage, Capacity to Execute must include “Respect”
- Respect for Customers: After all Customers; pay the bills.
- Respect for Staff: After all Staff is the Face and Personality of the business and The Staff’s collective behaviour and practice determines the business Culture and Brand; NOT the Business “Values” defined in its Corporate Strategy.
- Respect the competitors. Odd I know! Competitors are your Competitors because they have Earned That Right. Their performance attracts the customers you would like.
- When SMBs respect their competitors, they are able to see clearly what their winning Competitive Strategy is, and how they differentiate.
- I strongly recommend that SMBs avoid Playing Second Fiddle Strategy. Do not copy the Competitor’s Strategy, simply because the SMB is not privy to the insights into the Competitor’s Capacity to Execute. As such, the SMB may not necessarily have the Capacity to Execute if it decides to copy the Competitor’s winning strategy.
With Respect for Customers, Staff & Competitors, SMBs have equipped their companies with the utmost Capacity to Execute Competitive Advantage Strategies; which will:
- Strengthen the SMBs Brand,
- Win New Customers,
- Improve Proactiveness,
- Increase Sales,
- Increase Insights & Resources, allowing the SMBs to get to the next level of Competitive Advantage, Micheal Porter’s level.
Instead of going after the Big Fishes, our Recommendation is that SMBs find out what is Unique & Specific about their business, the Reasons Why Customers are attracted to the business, and leverage those Insights to Develop and Execute a Competitive Advantage Strategy; the SMB has the Capacity to Execute.
At NMCS we have the Tools and Strategies – Services SMBs can afford – to help SMBs get to their Capacity to Execute Competitive Advantage. SMBs have options when it comes to becoming more Competitive, however, the SMBs cannot compete the way the medium-to-large organizations do. SMBs have to take a more Modern Competitive Advantage Approach and Execute their Competitive Advantage within a “Respect” Framework to compete effectively.
Plant the Seed: Focus on the Vision, Start Small, and Start with What you have!
Nurture the Plant: Honour your trade, Honour your Customer, Honour your Staff, and Honourable Practice!
Reap the Fruits of your Labour: See how these Simple Strategies Slowly, Steadily and Stealthily Improve the SMB Competitiveness.