Is the economy affecting your business negatively? If so, what percent of the affect is from the economy versus the negative attitude of you or any of your team? Yet why are many businesses thriving in this time? Indeed, many of our clients are having banner years and the highest ever growth rates despite increased competition and the bad economy.

We've seen first-hand sales productivity plummet in some groups based on the false perception that they won't be able to sell much, yet when challenged to get productivity up to or beyond normal levels, some have found that their closing ratios are actually higher! The beauty of selling in a down economy is that most of your competition is dejected, demoralized and spiraling downward.

Although improving productivity, innovating marketing/sales approaches and selling on value are more important than ever, another area we are finding crucial to our client's success in these times is their decision on strategic differentiation. One of the first steps of strategy is deciding where you will compete; defining your defensible competitive advantage and going out and leveraging on that strength.

The CPA of an ag client jumped up and told them, "look guys, you either define your difference or die!" because if they didn't carve out a niche and compete on a defensible competitive strength that the large multi nationals couldn't copy, they could be obliterated by price warfare. They chose to compete on a few unique points while maintaining very high price margins. When competitors resorted to the largest percentage price drops in history, our client retained the vast majority of customers, despite those customers being tempted by the sharpest price drops they had ever seen.

Defining your strategic difference protects you from competition and pays financially. One example is of a friend in the financial industry. Although most have lost an average 40 percent in their portfolios this last year, he was able to close his fund up almost 10 percent in 2008. Why? Because unlike 99 percent of the orthodox financial managers who have a "buy and hold" strategy, he operates his hedge fund more like a day trader and installs a sell order on investments so that they sell on drops sometimes of just 1 percent.

Traditionalists mock his methodology because it isn't what is taught or accepted, but his clients laugh all the way to the bank with previous years averaging around 30 percent. This is a great example of how pride and the lack of innovation trap competition into stagnated strategies.

Whatever happened to "buy low, sell high," we ask. "The majority of the market does the exact opposite of what is logical, especially in a bad economy," he replies. This makes the point as to what can be the root of your coming advantage. How can you differentiate from the masses in a way that will gain market share during this economy?

1. You can only choose to compete on two of these three areas; quality, service and price. Ask your customers what they see as your defining difference and decide on your positioning. Make specific lists of your largest growth customers and prospects who most fit your ideal profile. Focus!

2. As leader of your company, set an objective with your team that despite the challenging economy, you plan on accelerating growth and continuously putting in place strategies to facilitate growth.

3. Stamp out the fear! Build and review your plan for gaining share frequently.

For a free copy of our Strategy Handbook detailing more about positioning your company toward a defensible competitive advantage in the tough economy, e-mail us at or