In our 15-year research study into alpha companies—those rare businesses that have everyone else following their leads and customers aspiring to own their products—we discovered that they do a few things very right. More important, they recognize what to avoid.
Here are some ways we learned that alphas contrast with nonalphas:
Nonalpha thinking: Focus on staying ahead of competition.
Alpha thinking: Focus on what your b-to-b customers want to buy.
Nonalphas worry about what competitors are doing. Alphas typically ignore most competitive activity and understand what customers want to buy. That means they go beyond just understanding what customers are currently buying; they have a process for discovering what customers wish they could buy but are not being offered.
Nonalpha thinking: Continually improve product and service.
Alpha thinking: Continually address more and higher emotional and ego-satisfaction needs of b-to-b customers.
Nonalphas worry about the functional performance of their products or services. Alphas make sure they offer at least the minimum acceptable functional performance, but focus on making their b-to-b customers feel better about themselves and smarter for buying their products. That includes helping customers believe that they are making the decision to buy the product because they know more than other buyers and, therefore, should be admired and respected.
Nonalpha thinking: Create growth by giving incentives for sales and profit outcomes.
Alpha thinking: Continually make growth easier by giving incentives for improvements in the causes of growth rather than final outcomes.
Nonalphas continually battle to sustain growth because they give incentives for the wrong things. They worry about final outcomes—such as sales, profits, market share, brand awareness and margins—so their employees and sales staffs find ways around doing things right that still achieve short-term outcome numbers. The result is that it's always a new battle to generate the next level of growth. Alphas recognize the real core causes of those outcomes—such as perceived satisfaction of needs (especially self-satisfaction and personal significance), communications effectiveness, brand differentiation and loyalty generation—and give incentives for improving those.
Alpha companies, once they are in the lead, actually don't work as hard as nonalphas because they work much smarter. By focusing on what will make a sustainable, continuously improving difference, they actually find it easier and easier to generate success. What's more, they get their customers and competition driving business to them.
Who wouldn't rather have things get easier than continually get harder?
Wes Ball is author of "The Alpha Factor: The Secret to Dominating Competitors and Creating Self-Sustaining Success" (Westlyn Publishing, 2008) and founder and president of Ball Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.