Should you be playing a different game?

421502706_d828d6128e   photo by ellasdad

There are times when you need to play a different game.  When the current playing field is too crowded, too much of a commodity or just not a great place to be, you need to change the rules.  When you’re vulnerable to changes and competition…you need to play a different game.

I’ve been enjoying some great discussions in a Competitive Advantage training  course I’m taking from Sean Stormes.  Sean has a really interesting perspective as a life long sales guy, sales manager, sales trainer, etc.  Companies are approaching him to get help with sales training…and he’s telling them that sales training likely isn’t their issue – they need to be playing a different game.  They need a competitive advantage.

It doesn’t matter how good a salesman you are if you aren’t selling a product or service that’s different than the competition in a meaningful way (meaningful according to your customers in case you were wondering).  If the perception from the customer is that you’re basically the same as your competition…all you have left to compete on is price (and that’s a bad place to be).

The good news is that there’s an alternative.

You play a different game when you can come up with your competitive advantage – that fundamental difference in your business that others can’t (or aren’t willing to) follow you on.

As an example, when Netflix founder Reed Hastings looked at the very competitive home movie arena, he asked “what do people hate about renting movies?” – and the answer was ‘Paying late fees’.  He could have played the same game as Blockbuster and others and just removed late fees, but he realized a better approach was to play a totally new game – making Netflix a category of one.

Last year I wrote about another game changer with a local flavor.  Milk is about as much of a commodity as you’re ever going to find, but Shatto Milk has figured out how to sell Milk as a product without being part of the commodity game.  They have lots of things that differentiate them (interesting flavors, upscale packaging, environmentally conscious, etc.), but at the end of the day the biggest difference is their innovation and desire to be different – none of their competition is willing (or able) to try and play in the same space.

Another local example that hasn’t quite launched yet are some clients of mine who were looking at competing in the Estate Planning space.  Most estate planning attorneys are forced into a grind of trading time for money and churning through Estate Plans as quickly as they can and constantly squeezing their prices – the perception is that most Estate Planners aren’t much different than what you can get somewhere like LegalZoom online.  (Not really a true statement, but the perception is real). 

My clients have recognized that what their clients really want are a throwback to the old fashioned family lawyer – an advisor that you can trust to help you navigate all of the difficult legal issues that people face (including estate planning) without getting hammered with fees for every minute the clock is ticking. 

The result is a great customer experience, a trusted relationship that addresses all of your fears and concerns and the peace of mind that you have a lawyer in your corner who’s not gouging you for every phone call.  From their perspective they can charge a premium upfront because it’s a higher value, personalized service that many people will pay extra for and they get the satisfaction of building an old fashioned practice based on long term relationships with clients they really enjoy helping.

So what different game can you play (or are already playing)?  Share your thoughts below – I’d love to hear them.

Shawn Kinkade  Kansas City Business Coach

3 thoughts on “Should you be playing a different game?”

  1. Christina says:

    Excellent post. I'm a firm believer that there's always a way to differentiate yourself from the other in order to gain competitive advantage, you may be selling the same service but then you could still be different in some ways… I love your post.

  2. skinkade says:


    Thanks for the comment – you are absolutely right, there are a lot of ways to differentiate yourself and a lot of them don't have to be big…just right for you (Southwest is an airline physically like everyone else, but their culture of having fun makes them different).


  3. davidsoxman says:

    I think we all battle the issue of differentiation. What makes me so special? I am trying a different approach on marketing consulting that I believe only a few have tried. It is the concept of being paid based upon performance. If as a result of hiring me as your outsourced marketing director, I am unable to achieve the results we agreed to in the timeframe we decided, then not only am I fired, but I am paid significantly less than my fee. It's a sharing of risk. It's a new approach, we'll see if it differentiates me from my competition.

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