What Makes You Unique?
The Problem of “Best Practices”
In today’s digital world, what often prevents your business from being unique is the use of off-the-shelf applications like project management systems (Basecamp, Asana, Trello, Zoho), customer relationship management systems (Salesforce, SugarCRM, CiviCRM), marketing and sales management systems (HubSpot, MailChimp), and e-commerce systems (Magento, Shopify). They incorporate the “best practices” of your industry into their design. These software companies profit by building one application and selling it to as many customers as possible. But if everyone is doing the same “best practices,” how do you expect to rise above them?
The Secret Sauce
Why are startups like Amazon (department store), Uber (car service), Airbnb (accommodation booking), and Spotify (music store) so successful? Because they developed unique systems that allowed them to do what they do better than anyone else. This is why the vast majority of startups focus on building their own systems. They incorporate their unique philosophies, perspectives, values, processes, and strategies into their own systems. You do not have to be a VC-backed startup to develop your own system. Your business should not be a mere “user” of the system everyone else uses; you should be a “developer” of your own system. Today with all these technologies that allow us to find the best possible product at the cheapest possible price in a matter of seconds, if you can’t differentiate yourself, you cannot survive.
Unique and Unified
A typical business today relies on many applications to operate. It might use Trello to keep track of the todo lists, Salesforce to keep track of their customers, MailChimp to send out newsletters, and Magento to sell products online. Only a small number of features from each application is used because each is written to accommodate a wide range of businesses. This means there is a great deal of unnecessary complexity that each user needs to manage. If you were to imagine building your own system that can compete with these systems, you would naturally give up. It’s true; it’s not realistic to think that you can build your own Salesforce. But when you carefully evaluate what features you are actually using in each application, you would realize that there aren’t many. Instead of managing the patchwork of these complexities, why not build your own system that takes a few of these features from all the applications?
When you have one integrated system of your own, you only need to have one set of login and password. All the different aspects of this system are aware of who you are and what other data you have. Your todo list is aware of your customers’ contact information. The contact information is aware of what marketing emails you have sent to her in the past. And, the marketing email is aware of what she bought on your online store. There are no redundant data.
Another problem with these off-the-shelf systems is that there is always something unique about every business which these systems cannot handle. What if all of your customers are acupuncturists and you need to verify their licenses? If you have your own system, you could automate and integrate what’s unique about acupuncturists into the same system.
Read More » “Too Many Apps at Work?”