Be different to achieve career and business success

Be different! The key to business and career success

Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on December 9, 2019

The fundamental goal of any business is to be different – to be better than those
with whom it is competing. Every business should be on a journey to be the
preferred provider of products or services to its markets by offering a great
customer/client experience. A preferred provider is the company that customers
and clients preferentially want to do business with, and often can charge a
premium for what they provide.

The fundamental goal of any individual is to be different – to be better than those
with whom they are competing for that next job, whether internally or externally at
a new company. Their goal is to demonstrate to the hiring manager that they are
the best choice for that position.

I have written about how businesses and individuals can differentiate themselves.
These are the subjects of my recently published book, Be Different! The Key to
Business and Career Success. My book is based on personal experience serving in
the trenches, rising to the position of CEO of PQ Corporation, as well as what I
have learned by serving as a director on public, private, private equity and
nonprofit boards. The following advice is excerpted from my book.

How do you become the preferred provider to your markets, the Holy Grail of any

Provide a great customer experience

The first rule of any provider of a product, service, or experience is to think like a
customer, client, or spectator and ask, “What would be my expectations, and how
would I like to see my expectations met, and then exceeded? How would I like to
be personally treated?”

Operationalize customer interaction

As a provider, you should “operationalize” your customer’s or client’s experience.
You should think through every encounter and interaction in detail and determine
whether they would have a great experience dealing with your organization. Does
your website work as intended when a customer places an order? Is it easy for a
customer, client, or guest to speak with the right person to have their problem
resolved? Are they treated in a courteous manner? Does your company always
meet its commitments?

Focus on these areas, and you will gain competitive advantage over those
companies that don’t.

Continuous improvement builds competitive advantage

Companies that continuously improve their internal business processes and how
they interact with their customers and clients are on a journey to become the
preferred provider to their market.

To not continually improve means that you fall behind. No other initiative has this
innate imperative. Even though continuous improvement is led by the CEO and
other senior leaders, it is driven by the employees at every level within the
company. The senior leadership of the firm is charged with creating an
environment where employees develop a sense of ownership in that part of the
business in which they work.

If you think that “good” is good enough, you will never become great
“Good is the enemy of great” are the opening words of “Good to Great,” the best-
selling iconic book by preeminent leadership and management thought leader Jim
Collins, on “why some companies make the leap [to outstanding sustained
performance] … and some don’t.” To become the preferred provider in your
market, you and your employees must have the mindset to become a great

Achieving greatness is a journey, one that never ends. Once you think you are
great, you have nowhere to go but down. Very few organizations ever achieve
greatness, even though at times leaders and those who they lead may use that term
to describe their organizations. As CEO of PQ, I would tell our employees never
to refer to our company as great. This is for third parties to do, and our response
should always be, “Thank you, but we are on a journey, and have a long way to go
to achieve greatness.”

How do you win that next promotion or new job?

Differentiate yourself from your peers

People advance in their careers by differentiating themselves from their peers, just
as businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors. An individual’s
track record of accomplishments, skills, and experience gained in previous jobs
can be used to achieve that peer differentiation.

In a job interview, talk about the results that you achieved in your previous
positions. How did those results support the goals of your organization, or those of
a customer or client? Show how you have been innovative and have exercised
initiative. A potential employer will assess what you can do for their company,
based on what you accomplished at your previous employer.

Show you are customer/client focused

All employees have internal and/or external customers/clients. If you are in a staff
position, your job is to help other staff and line units within your company be
successful in achieving their goals. If you are in a line position, your job is to help
your company’s clients or customers be successful in their businesses. How have
you done so? How have you helped your previous employers travel the journey to
be the preferred provider to their markets?

Talk about your commitment to continuous improvement

In your previous jobs, if you felt there was a more effective approach to
accomplishing your organization’s goals, did you challenge paradigms and the
accepted ways of doing things within your area of responsibility? Challenging the
status quo shows initiative and your desire to improve the company’s operation.

Give examples of how you have been successful in selling your ideas to others

People who are in sales aren’t the only ones who sell. Everyone is selling their
ideas to their boss, their peers, the teams they serve on, and their direct reports.
This requires good presentation skills. It also requires good listening skills, not
only to address objections, but to be open to other ideas. Discuss how you have
sold your ideas to your organization and demonstrate that you listen and value the
opinions of others.

Follow this advice. Being different from your competitors and your peers is the
key to business and career success.

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is the author of
“Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker,
advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership,
entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of
Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel
University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the
Harvard Business School. He can be reached at

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