I thought 'service' was our differentiator

"What is your difference?" That's a question I have asked a lot of organizations over the years. There's one answer I've heard more than any other.

"It's our service!"

I hear it a lot from the sales people. But I've heard it from marketing folks, too.

"We go above and beyond!" they say.

"So does your competition." I reply.

"But we really go above and beyond!" comes the retort.

Oh, you really go above and beyond. Well, let's all high five and take the rest of the day off. Our work here is done.

A confession

Okay, that sarcasm is not fair. I've been guilty of a version of the service-as-a-differentiator thing. Mine went something like this:

"If they just would work with us, they would understand."

It's embarrassing to write that. It just goes to show that everyone can be susceptible to this way of thinking.

What I finally faced up to was that our offering really wasn't all that differentiated. It didn't mean we weren't getting business and doing fine work. But there were frustrations. The way we were getting work seemed like a crapshoot. And it was too easy to lose work to other firms.

Finding a differentiator with meaning

Finding clear cut differentiation today is difficult. I'm going to go out on a limb here and wager that 'service' isn't your differentiator, even though your sales folks may be adamant that it's the thing. Unless, of course, you're the Macy's Santa who is sending shoppers over to Gimbel's to get that toy that Macy's doesn't carry (watch Miracle on 34th street if you have no clue about that reference.)

So what should we do? I proposed recently that we should change the way we determine what makes us unique:

We need to ask, "Is our big question, 'What makes us different?' Or, is it, 'What difference will we make?’"

Asking the question, “What makes us different?” is an inward-looking focus. It’s us thinking about us. Now look at asking the question, “What difference will we make?” It is outwardly focused. It is concerned with the good we will do in the world.

Here is the interesting thing. Great service completely complements this outward focus (as long as it is genuinely help-oriented and not used as a device to solely see how much more we sell to a prospect.) Service isn’t our differentiator. But it can help us understand that thing our prospects are longing for – the real and meaningful difference we can make in their lives.