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Working out Your Competitive Advantage

There are very few unique ideas in the world; don’t think you are the first person in the billions of people in the world to think of it. The difference between success and failure relies on a lot of factors, like management and customer service, but every successful product has some distinguishing characteristic, some competitive advantage, that sets it apart from the competitors.  These unique characteristics succeed because the customer sees more value in them—and consequently, in your product—than other products.

Not every successful feature translates into a competition-crushing product.  Your product may have a price advantage, but that might only appeal to a small part of the market interested in ease of use.  Your product may be blue instead of red, and that, for some crazy reason, might appeal to a huge part of the market, making your sales skyrocket. There are tons of examples of products in which a seemingly simple difference made a huge difference.

So, finding that simple difference can lead to success. How do you find it? I’ve been studying sales process for many years and I think I have an idea. In sales, one important thing to ask prospects is how they feel about the competitor’s product. If you can isolate what they like about the product they are currently using, then what they don’t like about it, you can build up your product’s similarities in the good things and your superiority in the bad things.

Translate this for the product development process, the critical customer investigation (See Seven Steps of Customer Investigation, 4/09/15) you have to go through as you develop your feature set and you’ll see it’s really simple process.  You ask two questions:

  1. What do you like most about the product you are currently using?
  2. What would you change about the product you are currently using?

Let’s take a hypothetical case as an example. You are developing a new dog leash. You approach dog owners in a store or on a walk and start the customer interview. At some point, you should look for a compelling advantage.

“What do you like about the leash you’re using now?”

It’s pretty good. It retracts and keeps my dog under control.”

“What would you change if you could?”

“Well, it’s sort of hard to hold for more than 5 minutes. I keep having to shift hands.  Kind of bulky.’

Now, you get the important information in the follow up questions.

“So, you’d like it better if it were a little lighter and more comfortable to hold with just one hand, right?”

“That would be better, yes”

“Our product is specifically designed to retract and control the dog just as well as your current leash, but it is 50% lighter and the handle is shaped to make it more comfortable. Would that be something that you would see value in?”

“Absolutely. I would certainly take that into account when I’m in the market for a new leash.”

If you conduct 100 interviews and you keep hearing that complaint and response, you now know how to design your product to gain a competitive advantage.

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