Leveraging the Grading Curve - A Great Way to Stand Out
After talking about strengths vs. weaknesses and using a SWOT analysis to evaluate those factors, Iet’s think about a really basic, rubber meets the road strategy for leveraging strengths to create a successful business. Everyone likes to be good at things. We like to be strong and competent and just generally awesome. Me too. I want to be awesome and I want you to be awesome. Seth Godin wants you to be the best in the world at what you do, so let me say something you might not expect. Being good at something (even being awesome) doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make your business succeed because it doesn’t make customers choose you. Why is that?
Most people are familiar with the idea of grading on a curve. Sometimes we talk about that as a bad thing, like it lowers the standards. Grading on a curve can be a good thing, as long as you position yourself above the curve. It’s human nature to compare and contrast things. Cheap looks even cheaper next to expensive. Fast seems really fast when you’re used to slow. (And vice versa, believe me. I’ve just traveled across the country to a place where the internet still travels on horseback). In the case of grading on a curve, smart looks smarter when it sits next to dumb. You can leverage the power of this idea by positioning yourself to be strong, not just in the areas you are ABLE to be strong, but in the areas where other people are weak.
Let me give two examples to flesh this out. Let’s say you have 10 auto repair shops in your area. Maybe there is one that does a bad job. They are known for charging too much and doing sloppy work but, somehow, they are still open. It won’t be long before the free market shuts them down. Chances are that all the rest are good at fixing cars. They know what they’re doing. Anyone coming into the market to open a new shop will have to be incredibly good to stand out. This is what I mean when I good doesn’t matter. It’s like trying to push your business above the highest peak of the curve. Want an easier way to stand out? Be awesome at things that matter to customers that your competition is not doing. Maybe that sounds too simple and you think there are no opportunities like that. Why wouldn’t they do it better if customers care about it?
How about being the shop that is really, really good at communicating to customers, explaining the problem in plain language, and earning their trust. Most shops are notoriously terrible at this. So much so that it’s a running joke about mechanics. What about the shop that has a waiting room that’s actually clean and pleasant to sit in, since your customers are a captive audience and don’t enjoy the sensation of huddling in the corner of your shop behind some oil drums. That’s the décor in many waiting areas. A few weeks back I had the pleasure of spending several hours with my two small children waiting for an emergency brake repair. Luckily the waiting room was dirty, holes in the chairs, and my kids got some vocabulary practice from the language that drifted in through the open door to the shop. There are weaknesses in the competition that can become your strengths. Maybe even though in decent coffee and WiFi in the waiting area. That would be a nice touch.
How about the doctor’s office? It’s clean, right? No holes in the chairs and the language in the back is more family friendly. Certainly, most doctors are really good at what they do. It’s a challenge to grow your business by being the smartest doctor in your market. A great goal but also a long, steep climb. But how many times have you made an appointment and still sat in the waiting room forever, wondering what the point of making an appointment was? How quickly would you switch to the doctor who manages his or her appointment calendar in such a way that you actually get in when you are supposed to? The medical office that can make this happen has a huge advantage over everyone else, even if they are all equally good at doctoring. The difference is that one decided to position themselves to be strong where everyone else is weak. Be awesome where others suck. Find your strength in an area where everyone else is on the low end of the curve.