Creating Competitive Advantage Through Technology
Competition is everywhere!
Whatever market you service, whatever sector, you will have competition. How do you stand out from the crowd? How can you clearly demonstrate a point of difference to your customer that gives you something unique, which in turn helps you charge a premium for your goods or service? Michael Porter, once of those well-regarded management thinkers, said we have two choices in business:
- Be the cheapest
- Be different
How can everyone be different? Of course, there are lots of ways we can differentiate what we do; our brand; or quality; our people and so on. It starts with having to have a deliberate strategy to clarify how we will be different and building a marketing plan to let people know. Technology creates huge opportunities for any business to differentiate what it does.
Accountants are not known for our creative genius, we are a safe pair of hands, steady, reliable and in many cases conservative. It does not mean however that we cannot think differently. When I set up Farnell Clarke back in 2007, I had no preconception about how to run an accounting firm and because of this I put myself in the shoes of a client and asked a simple question: “If I were a client of an accounting firm what would I want?“
This became the mantra for our firm as we grew. As much of the market had a prescribed approach on how to do what they did it meant much of the competition was the same and had very little to differentiate them, largely as they were stuck in a cycle that prevented thinking outside of the box.
Without those years of baggage, I was able to think about how technology could change our offer. How a different approach to pricing and service delivery could allow us to stand out from the crowded market that were largely offering the same thing for the same price. Whilst there were many factors to our growth, technology was at the heart of it. A willingness to try new things and be prepared to rethink the business model allowed us as firm to operate at the ‘bleeding edge’ and lead a charge towards what is now largely standard practice in our sector. It was however firms like us that set the benchmark for this use of technology to deliver better outcomes for our clients and our teams.
We hear a lot about digital disruption, and we look at those businesses that have leveraged technology to change the world we live in, Amazon, Facebook, Uber and AirBNB. Apologies in advance of the oversimplification here but what many of these businesses have done is look at what went before them and look at where that was broken.
I was speaking at a large event in the US back in 2019 and one of the speakers talked about digital disruption and he termed and positioned it perfectly for me. He said that ‘Disruption is simply removing friction from the process’. Think about that carefully and then think about all the things you do in every part of your business, where is the unnecessary friction for your clients or your team and how can a rethink of your business approach or simply apply technology to help remove that friction to create better client or customer experiences?
We all have significant opportunities to utilise tech to run better business. Often deploying new tech will require us to rethink how we do business and we must not let tech drive what we do, rather understand the why, what and how of our business; why do we exist, what do we do and how do we do it. Then we can start to think about ways in which tech will help us deliver what we and our clients and customers want from us.
How we go about implementing technology is critical. As a firm we are very lucky to get asked to support our clients get this right. Because we need to ensure that our strategy drives our choice of tech, its imperative this is the start point, followed closely by a process mapping exercise to drive out the inefficiencies in what you do before you overlay technology. Applying tech to an inefficient process will simply magnify the inefficiency, always get the process right first.
Once you understand the process you can start to think about where technology will allow automation or create better user experiences for your customers. The ability with most cloud software to connect and integrate systems creates huge opportunities for us to work smarter and more efficiently in turn leading to greater profitability in your business.
So where to start? For me, I would suggest you take some time to think about that ‘friction’ that may exist in what you do, those situations where you unintentionally make things more difficult for your customers than you need to. Consider what tweaks to process of tech can help remove that friction. You might be surprised by the opportunities this creates!
You could also have a chat with our team, our systems implementation specialists would be happy to talk about how they can help you think about technology in your business. Either way, do take the time to think about what you can do today to differentiate your offer from the marketplace in which you operate.