Find Your EDGE
Where’s your sweet spot in a competitive marketplace?
By Laurie Hileman
In golf and in business, the words of philosopher Seneca written nearly 2,000 years ago still ring true: “Luck is a matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” For a Michigan air quality testing company, the opportunity came when 60 Minutes aired a segment earlier this year purporting that a U.S. consumer retailer of laminate products was selling Chinese-made laminate flooring laden with excessive amounts of formaldehyde. As a result, business at Prism Analytical Technologies Inc. has rocketed, with record orders for its home air quality testing, Prism’s sweet spot.
Like a seasoned golfer stepping up to the tee, Prism was well prepared for the opportunity the 60 Minutes spotlight presented. Les Keepper, CEO and co-founder of Prism, notes that the “overnight success” was 20 years in the making. Prism has zeroed in on its sweet spot from the beginning. “We began offering air quality assessments in 1995, and that has been our focus ever since. We take a different approach than other companies,” says Keepper. “We don’t just tell you what chemicals are in your air; we explain the probable source of those chemicals and suggest ways for you to resolve the problem. Sometimes the resolution is as simple as putting a cap on an open gas can in the garage.”
YOUR SWEET SPOT
Keepper says he helped found Prism because he had a need for the service his company now provides, and no other company offered that service. “I recognized a problem and a need that wasn’t being met. It was a readily identi able niche because no one else was doing it—there was no available solution, and I knew that we had the knowledge and resources to provide the optimal solution.”
For entrepreneurs, finding the edge in a competitive landscape might not be as obvious. Keepper offers these two key tips to help entrepreneurs recognize their sweet spot:
Identify and understand a problem and then provide a solution. “Recognize the potential problem before it becomes a problem,” Keepper says, “then when the problem emerges, you are in the position to offer a solution.”
Learn to listen to your customers, because they will help you recognize the next product or service that you need to focus on. “They will ask you if your product or company can do this or that, and that is what you need to be working on. Focus on the solution you can offer to solve their problem or reduce their pain threshold,” says Keepper.
GET TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS
When preparing, golfers can do a little research and read the reviews and rankings for the golf course along with ratings, slope, yards, and par for each tee. But they will gain significantly more insight by actually walking the course and making direct observations. A global auto parts manufacturer prefers the direct approach as well.
While many businesses increasingly rely on big data and social media for customer insight, David Stevens, senior VP of American Mitsuba Corporation, says that Mitsuba also relies on ancient Japanese business principles that value direct observation and contact. “When a customer requests anything, we take it seriously. Usually, we meet face to face with the customer for any significant request. We frequently have customers visit us in our plants so they can better understand what makes us tick and see how good we are,” he explains. Mitsuba practices genba or san-gen-shugi in most elements of its business management. “This means we go to the actual site (genba),” Stevens says, “and see the actual thing or condition (genbutsu) with our own eyes, to understand and respond to the actual situation (genjitsu).” Stevens says this is the most valid method to conduct situation analysis and respond appropriately instead of depending on reports and comments from other people. “We go directly to our customers and see their actual situation and needs firsthand. Then, we can propose changes and solutions that more than satisfy them,” he says.
ANALYZE YOUR COMPETITION
In today’s competitive business market, you are likely not the only person offering a solution to a recognized problem. Competition can provide a learning opportunity. “You don’t learn to play good golf by beating poor players,” Hall of Fame golf coach Harvey Penick often told his students. On the golf course and in the marketplace, you need to size up your best competition and build your competitive advantage. Objectively examine where your strengths are and what sets you apart from your competition.
Then identify and articulate your value proposition, a statement that explains what benefit you provide and for whom, and what is special about how you do it. In other words, it describes your target customer, the problem you solve for them, and why you’re distinctly better than your competition at doing this. This is your sweet spot.
Golfers contend that from putt to drive, there is no better feeling in golf than hitting the ball directly in the sweet spot of the clubface. Armed with a solid value proposition—one based on your ability to solve your customers’ problems better than your competitors can—you are prepared for any opportunity and poised for success. Step up to the tee with the confidence of a Masters champion, take aim, and swing.