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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Develop A Sustainable Competitive Advantage

By Terry L. Brock

“Life is tough. Life is tougher when you’re stupid.” John Wayne

Well, the Duke said it right, even if it is a bit rough. Life can be very tough. It’s not that “they” are out to get you. Frankly, “they” don’t care about you. Others are interested in their own problems and life. However, if you get in their way, they will do whatever is necessary to see that they succeed.

Relationship Marketing encompasses key principles for success that work. These principles embody helping others meet their needs. That is how true success happens. When you can help others in ways that matter to them, you stand out from the crowd. Relationship Marketing, when practiced properly, provides you with a sustainable competitive advantage.

This works for an organization. It also works for you and me on an individual basis. In tough economic times, this is particularly important. Now is the time to take an assessment of your skills, your competitive advantage and become more of the best person you can be.

Ray Stata, the Chairman of Analog Devices, a semiconductor company said very wisely, “the rate at which individuals and organizations learn may become the only sustainable competitive advantage, especially in knowledge-intensive industries.” Think about it. Your competition can take any product or service, reverse engineer it and duplicate it. They can even duplicate the way you do things and the systems you have in place. However, they cannot duplicate the rate at which you uniquely learn and add marketplace-useful knowledge to your personal and corporate database.

Here are some key principles to build your own sustainable competitive advantage.

1. Put Systems In Place To Practice Rapid Response. Rapid response for customer requests, prospect requests, learning and more can give you a competitive advantage. Your customers are used to instant access to the Net, instant responses from many vendors (though not all) and the instant news of cable. They want and demand that from your systems. This type of system is on-going and living. You don’t do it once and then sit back with fingers laced behind your head and feet propped up on desk. You have to continually practice.

2. Tolerate Mistakes. Let people know they won’t terminate a relationship because they made a mistake. Have strict accountability and rewards in place to learn from mistakes. People take risks only when they believe in two highly probably outcomes: 1) they will receive a much greater reward from success than the penalty from failure, and 2) They are not going to jeopardize their future. This toleration for mistakes applies particularly to yourself. Let yourself try and fail. Just learn from each of those times when you fall down. Relationship Marketing tolerates mistakes but learns from each one to be better next time.

3. Think of it Like Training And Exercise. Developing a sustainable competitive advantage is analogous to exercise. Yes, you can do a bunch of sit-ups, push-ups and aerobic work. Good for you. However, you have to do it again. What you did in the past is nice. What you have done lately is what matters. Learning is like building strength in your body. It requires a combination of efforts and doing things the right way (nutrition, exercise, rest, attitude and more). It is imperative to get assistance from professionals by hiring them and studying what is available (magazines, on the Net, seminars, etc.).

4. Study The Soil. Michael Porter, the Harvard professor noted for his expertise in competitive advantages, stresses the importance of creating something that cannot be easily duplicated. I often consult with people who want to start a company or new product. Often they haven’t done their research. They are essentially duplicating what is already available in many other places. It is easy to come up with an idea that you think is great. However, if you haven’t done your research to find out what already exists, you’re likely to duplicate the errors that others have already made! Instead, study what others have done right and wrong. Study what your unique competitive advantage will be in this new venture. Then go forward as you test what the market wants.

5. Get The Right Tools For Learning Rapidly. I’ve been amazed at the results with tools like PhotoReading from Learning Strategies for digesting massive amounts of reading material. I’ve also been very impressed with QuickTime (Mac platform) and Windows Media Player (Windows platform) to learn audio and video material rapidly. We don’t have time here to go into the details but these tools are free and allow you to listen to audio at increased speed and enhanced learning. Check with the manufacturer for how to do this. Get tools like this and learn how to learn rapidly. Do this for yourself and your organization.

John Wayne might have been a bit rough in his quote at the beginning of this article. However, with the right principles and tools in place, you can overcome any toughness in life. Become physically and mentally tough. Learn how to learn rapidly. Build Relationship Marketing principles into your life and business. Get the resources you need to create and maintain a sustainable competitive advantage for yourself and your organization. It is the best way to insure success in any economy!

Terry Brock is an international marketing coach and columnist who helps businesses market more effectively, leveraging technology. He shows busy professionals how to squeeze more out of their days using time-honored rules and practical technology tools. He can be reached at 407-363-0505, by e-mail at or through his website at

Copyright © 2008, Terry Brock, Achievement Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved Internationally. No portion may be reprinted or used without prior written permission.