I recently had a discussion with the owner of a company that has been successful in a niche industry for many years. Not long ago, a valued employee – the person who managed this specialized part of the business by himself – left. This meant that the owner needed to get involved in this segment of the business at a more detailed level.

As we discussed the situation, the owner admitted that, even though his company had been serving this segment of the business for over thirty-five years, he knew very little about how the marketplace perceived his company in this market segment.

To be successful in today’s competitive marketplace, every company must have a distinct competitive advantage. Understanding your competitive advantage requires that you have a clear understanding of what your company does well … and what it doesn’t.

Determining your advantage in the marketplace is not easy to do. It requires an objective analysis of your strengths and weaknesses. It requires that you look honestly at how your company is viewed in the marketplace by your customers and by your competition.

It is often beneficial to get the assistance of an outsider to develop an objective analysis of your competitive situation. An outside consulting firm can help you and your staff to be more objective as you analyze your situation. Among other things, they can conduct an impartial study of your market position and give you valuable information about how your company is truly perceived in the market.

Competitive advantages come in many forms. Size, quality, excellent customer service, product selection, time in the industry and low pricing are examples of sustainable advantages. Creating a profile of your company that articulates what your company does well and what it does not is important. It’s the only way to realistically develop a marketing and sales strategy that aligns who you are with your messaging in the marketplace.

I have recently been consulting with a digital marketing firm. It has been refreshing to work for a firm that understands who they are and what they do well. Unlike previous experiences with other digital marketing companies I have tried to work with, this firm is open about the services they provide as well as the cost and the way that the services are delivered. They understand their strengths and work to make sure that there is alignment between their clients’ needs and their capability.

Once you understand your competitive advantages, it is important to determine your unique selling proposition. Whether you have sales people that call on potential customers or you market entirely through the internet, having a clearly defined selling strategy is important to your sales and marketing efforts.

When you’ve completed the analysis we discussed above, the question that needs to be answered is “What is it that makes your company unique?” In other words, what are the specific reasons that someone should do business with you and your company? Or, what is it that you offer that is a compelling reason for someone to do business with you?

Everyone in your industry probably offers products and services that are similar. But how have you differentiated what you sell from your competition? What is your unique selling proposition?

Differentiating your product and service offering is a challenging thing to do. It takes a strong understanding of your products and services, your target market, and your competition. It requires that you proactively avoid the trap of trying to be all things to all people. Differentiation means that you don’t blindly imitate everything that your competitors do.

Your unique selling proposition should be short, no more than 25 to 50 words. It should clearly describe what it is that you and your company do extremely well. It should indicate how you create value in a way that is difficult or impossible for your competition to match. If possible, it should provide a few easy to remember phrases that will help your prospects and customers view you and your company in a favorable light.

The benefits to understanding your competitive advantages and developing a statement of your unique selling proposition are twofold. First, it will help your marketing and sales efforts to become more focused on your strengths. In addition, it will provide guidance to your other employees to make sure that all of you are marching to the same drummer.

The unique selling proposition will equip you to better articulate to your prospects and customers the value that your company offers. It provides the basis for an “elevator speech” that you and your sales and marketing staff can use to quickly describe your unique selling proposition in half a minute when the opportunity presents itself.

And, as mentioned above, it increases your understanding – and the understanding of your employees – about the uniqueness of your company and its products and services. This helps everyone on your team to become more effective in promoting your company. It maximizes the probabilities for success in the opportunities that are available to you.