what winners have on their shelves Creating Competitive Advantage By Jaynie L. Smith (with William G. Flanagan) Currency Doubleday YOU MAY have the potential to be the biggest, brightest and best in your field, but if no one knows what makes you special, or why, all your best efforts may largely go to waste. If, however, you identify what makes you stand out from the crowd, you can expect a measure of success. That, at its most basic, is the message in a new 'how to' book. Creating Competitive Advantage by Jaynie L. Smith aims to give companies the key to running a truly successful business. The book is geared mainly to retailers, manufacturers, distributors and service providers. The author aims to answer the most likely question readers can expect to hear from potential customers: 'Why should I do business with you and not your competitor?' Being able to give a satisfactory answer is key to closing deals, retaining clients and staying ahead in your field of business, Smith asserts. Drawing on her experiences as a management consultant, she contends that competitive advantage is what separates a star company from the less successful, and what keeps a business not just alive but thriving. 'If you properly identify and exploit your competitive advantage, it will impact your bottom line early and often,' Smith says. 'The biggest marketing flaw in most companies is their failure to fully reap the benefits of their competitive advantage.' The writer notes that problems arise when companies think they have a competitive advantage in a certain area when they do not; when they have an advantage and do not realise it; or when they fail to promote a genuine competitive advantage adequately to current and potential customers. In each case, the mistake can be expensive, if not fatal. 'Without this edge, you will lose customers [and] eventually you will go out of business,' Smith warns. Having established her premise, Smith then explains how to go about identifying and exploiting a competitive advantage in the right way. The expected result should be to end up with a better business and have a noticeable impact on the bottom line. In her punchy, engaging style, the writer suggests ways to close deals, cut costs, free oneself from price wars and seize the high ground through effective market positioning. Another important topic is bridging the gap between what you assume customers expect and what they really expect, and this can be quite a gulf to bridge. There are also suggestions on how to create obvious advantages for yourself if none already exists. Smith's book is filled with examples and anecdotes relating to companies of varying sizes. The importance of communication is something of a mantra for the author. She expands on the theme and analyses ways that clever advertising can win new customers and help save money. The same chapter also examines how niche businesses have succeeded. Citing H.B. Trim, a small Florida-based garment company with dangerously thin margins, Smith gives a blow-by-blow account of how she advised the owner. Details about meetings in a coffee shop over fried eggs and home fries may seem a bit superfluous, but the point is that H.B. Trim took Smith's advice and plumped out with a 60 per cent increase in business. The book spells out ways to capitalise on selling points. At times the reader may be left feeling the writer is rather too confident in her own abilities, advice and coaching skills. The book demands time to be studied. There are no summaries, appendices or takeaway tips, and so Creating Competitive Advantage is not exactly a book to dip into. 1According to Jaynie L. Smith, most companies have one of five fatal flaws relating to competitive advantage. Basically, they don't have one, but think they do; they have one, but don't know what it is - so they lower prices instead; they know their competitive advantage, but neglect to tell clients; they mistake strengths for competitive advantages; or, lastly, they don't focus on their competitive advantage when making decisions.2'As the manager or owner of a business, it's awfully easy to assume that if your company is doing better than most of the competition, you're succeeding,' the author writes. However, this is a dangerous assumption. 'For most businesses, it's grow or die. It doesn't matter how great your idea is; if it's underexploited, someone will steal it.'3Show customers how much you save them. According to the author, 'Nothing grabs the attention of prospective customers quicker than showing them how much money, time, and effort they can save by doing business with you. But it's up to you to quantify those savings.' You can do this by listing actions, products or services which make your customer's job easier and more profitable.4Create the right kind of culture. 'Competitive advantages don't just happen. They require planning, decision-making, and implementation,' the author states. Her solution is to hold company retreats. In these, people should focus on competitive advantage, examining the actions of rivals and ways to protect market share.5Finally, replace cliches with competitive advantages. 'Your customers need to know what makes your company special, from the products/services you offer to the ways in which you deal with your customers.' It is vital to make sure the message is clear.