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I know how you can create a competitive advantage

by Phil Hesketh

At University, we were once asked to go out on the streets of Newcastle and research attitudes to gambling.

Most of us went out midweek since weekends were naturally reserved for leisure pursuits such as drinking, playing sport and gambling. Needless to say, we all got very similar results. One student, however, went to the main railway station on a Saturday when hundreds of punters happened to be arriving for Gosforth Races. The views he gathered were very different from ours – and far more positive towards gambling. His choice of time and location - though not intentional - was something that none of us had considered.

So here’s a challenge that will test your ability to create a competitive advantage. Suppose you and I set up rival burger van businesses. If you could choose any one competitive advantage, what would it be?

A plush new van? Top quality meat? Maybe a recipe for the best relish in town? This question was posed by the late Gary Halbert, one of the most celebrated marketers of the last hundred years, to a roomful of students. When he’d finished listing their ideas he told them why he’d win the burger war hands down. You see, his advantage was unbeatable. He’d ask for a starving crowd.

Think about it. You could have the world’s greatest burgers, served between the softest buns, and adorned with the tastiest of relish. But pitch up in the wrong place - like a vegetarian rally - and no-one’s buying. On the flip side, the van selling average burgers in the right place - like a prime spot outside a football ground on match day - is going to win.

That sounds obvious, I know. But dig deeper, because it’s a vital lesson in marketing. It means to succeed in business, you need a starving crowd – not a trickle of individuals who feel a little peckish. In business, the ‘crowd’ is a group of people who share a problem or desire, but can’t find a solution. Until you come along.

They’re ravenous. Desperate for help. Falling over themselves to buy from you. And they’re willing to pay top dollar for the privilege.

So how DO you find a starving crowd in a world where customers are spoilt for choice?

Well, try this. Find out from your customer where your competitors come up short. For instance, what’s frustrating or inadequate about the industry’s bog standard offer? How can it be improved, made more reliable, and less of a headache? Find out their aspirations and ask if their current supplier can satisfy them. And when they say ‘no’ you’ve identified the opportunity. The gap in the market you can now identified and can be exploited: The starving crowd.

“What are your aspirations exactly?” is number 27 and “In an ideal world what would you have?” is number 28 of my 50 ‘Killer Questions’ that all sales people need to have. If you’d like all 50 just mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details. and you can have them for free.

Now, I’ll have onions with mine, thanks.