Why Is There No Department Of Differentiation?

Industry Trends, Tools and Resources
Mitch Turck

Question: Why is differentiation so hard to maintain, if it’s so fundamental to your business?

If your org isn’t relentlessly differentiating itself from competitors and inaction, it’s running on borrowed time. Many legacy companies have found themselves in such a position, being disrupted by startups who are laser-focused on “why us, why now” — small, nimble teams who live and breathe differentiation. I’ll tell you where larger orgs go wrong in reacting to this challenge, and how to avoid being put on the defensive in the first place.

Why There Can’t Be A Department Of Differentiation

So you’ve got an upstart competitor popping up on everyone’s radar and cutting into your market share (or a mediocre incumbent that is just easier to pay and already in the system). Decent odds are, they’re coming in cheaper as well. It’s time to hunker down and maneuver your way to a position of strength, right?

You bring in your boldest commercial leaders, your product visionaries, your ops ninjas, and all your competitive intel (by the way, where are those docs again? Who’s got the latest updates? Have these numbers been approved?) You look around the room, and realize all you’ve done is assemble a smaller version of your own company. How did you reach the conclusion that fewer resources is somehow a better competitive strategy?

Differentiation is cross-functional and multidisciplinary — you can’t run it in a silo. You extend confidence across your org to pursue differentiation every day, fueled by their knowledge of market perceptions, objections, and challenges. The moment you start hiring people who don’t have the confidence to contribute towards differentiation, you’ve set yourself up to be disrupted or at a minimum significantly delayed in the sales process. It’s why your small-but-mighty competitor was able to squeeze into the marketable gaps you left open due to solutions that sound too generic to strike an actionable chord.

The Zen State Of Organizational Differentiation

The good news — and the immediately actionable news — is that larger teams that can swarm the toughest questions inherently have the advantage. They have more exposure to the market, and a more diverse background of experience. Where all this potential translates is in shared knowledge, which requires:

  1. The confidence to collaborate and challenge. A culture where questions can be asked by anyone, anytime, is the foundation of sustainable differentiation. You start with this mentality, and you build your platform atop it.
  2. An always-on input process. The extension of confidence has to happen through a democratized platform, rather than undocumented side conversations. When the lightning bolt of curiosity strikes (be it from external feedback or internal debate), everyone needs to know where to channel that energy.
  3. A reliable repository of outputs. The way to foster confidence in curiosity is to deliver delightful outputs to the inputs. If a teammate knows that stepping up to ask a question or challenge an assumption will make them (and possibly others) smarter, the habit will become second nature, and the company’s shared knowledge will remain razor sharp as a result. If the answers on your platform are multimedia, engagement will be even stickier.
  4. 3rd party references and testimonials.  Sometimes it’s not just what you are saying but who is saying it. Toss those case studies to the side as every serious player has a few, and get the source, on the record, talking about why they acted, moved quickly, and found not just differentiation in your approach but the translation of that approach to differentiated value.  

All the above is the reason my team built SkillBuilder.io. Throughout my career, be it as an executive or consultant, I’ve challenged organizations to develop a sustainable differentiation mentality. And in my experience, getting differentiation to scale is a function of exercising the complementary muscles that are curiosity and confidence.

Is that a convincing reason to try SkillBuilder? If so, you can spin it up for free here. If not, tell me why, and I’ll owe you a favor.

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