Why Compete When You Can Corner the Market?

Would you like to corner the government market in your specialty? Would being in high demand with virtually no competition be desirable?  Suppose you could achieve this by merely repackaging your services and continuing to do the work you do now.

Dictionary definition of monopoly

Interested?  Here is how.

The key to cornering the market is to change your company from an Activity/Skills Focus to a Problem/Results Focus.  Most government services companies have an Activity /Skills Focus.  They are all about the Activities they do — like developing software or operating call centers — and their Skills.  By changing to a Problem/Results focus  — whereby they are all about the Problems they solve and the Results they deliver, they corner the market.  The unique combination of the problems they solve, the results they deliver, and their supporting stories, leaves them without competition.

For example, consider an IT Service Desk Company supporting multiple IT systems at the Social Security Administration. That company could define itself by its Activities: ITIL-based service desk operations.  That approach gives them lots of competition though, because lots of companies operate ITIL-based service desks.  But suppose they describe themselves in terms of their Results:  Specialists in Rapidly Pinpointing and Resolving Problems in Complex IT-Based Enterprises.  (They have perfected a process for rapidly finding, resolving, and reporting on problems.)  That approach gives them no competition.  No other company defines itself that way.  They have cornered the market.

Many companies should make this change for three reasons:

  • A Problem / Results Focus is what customers want
  • A Problem / Results Focus enables differentiation
  • A Problem / Results Focus facilitates market expansion

Reason 1: A Problem / Results Focus Is What Customers Want

Each government executive has a mission to fulfill and tries to manage risks threatening that mission.  The risk of stakeholder  complaints, for example, is a frequent problem.

Suppose a contractor meets with a government executive and touts his company’s Activities and Skills: IT Service Desk Operational expertise.  The executive then has to translate those Activities and Skills into the Problems they could solve for her and the Results they could help her achieve.  That need to translate means that they’re not speaking her language.  And you can’t shape an RFP if you don’t speak the customer’s language.

Suppose the executive oversees a complex IT operation with stakeholders depending on constant system availability.  And suppose those systems are trouble-prone such that the executive gets frequent stakeholder complaints when systems go down.  Now suppose a company approaches her and says, “We specialize in giving executives like you visibility into the emerging trouble spots in your IT operations, so that you can take preventive action before trouble occurs.”  By tuning into this executive’s Problems, they have saved her the trouble of  translating and positioned themselves well for shaping an upcoming RFP.  Had they instead said they were IT Service Desk Operational experts, their conversation would have been less productive.

Customers don’t really care about the Activities you do or the Skills you possess except insofar as they help to solve the customer’s Problems and deliver needed Results.  If you talk about Activities and Skills, you are leaving it for them to figure out whether you can solve their Problems and deliver needed Results.  And they might not come up with the answers you are hoping for.

Reason 2: A Problem / Results Focus Enables Differentiation

An Activity/Skills Focus gives you a differentiation problem.  Lots of companies do the same Activities and have the same Skills.   In their customers’ eyes, these companies all look the same.

The way many companies try to differentiate themselves is through deep customer knowledge.  For example, they might focus on serving the DOE (U.S. Department of Energy), and learn that department’s operations, organization, politics, and policies.  By mastering that knowledge, they differentiate themselves from other companies without DOE experience.  But this is a limited kind of differentiation because other DOE contractors also acquire that knowledge.

A more thorough and meaningful way to achieve differentiation is to base it on the Results your company delivers. For example, the  company Specialized In Rapidly Pinpointing And Resolving Problems In Complex IT-Based Enterprises is differentiated.  No one is likely to have the same abilities and supporting stories.

Reason 3: A Problem / Results Focus Facilitates Market Expansion

The DOE contractor whose differentiation depends on his knowledge of DOE has a hard time going after opportunities at the DOT (U.S. Department of Transportation).  You see, DOT has their own contractors who know all about the inner workings of DOT.

If your differentiation strategy depends on developing deep knowledge of each customer, you have set yourself up for doing a lot of work.  That DOE contractor probably thinks that to get into DOT he needs to subcontract to a DOT contractor for a while until his people learn the terrain and can win a prime contract.

But the DOE contractor should take a lesson from Accenture’s experience at CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).  At CMS the conventional wisdom was that only agency insiders could win work there.  But Accenture proved otherwise.  When HealthCare.gov had problems in early 2014, CMS awarded Accenture a $45 million contract to take over the program, based on their success implementing a similar health exchange in California.  Accenture likely had little if any CMS insider knowledge.  What they had was a proven ability to solve an urgent problem facing CMS.

The lesson:  To avoid the steep competition most companies face in the government market, corner your market by adopting a Problem/Results Focus.  While other companies drone on about their Activities and Skills, your message about the Problems you solve and the results you Deliver will resonate with government executives.  Discover the universal government executive problems that your solutions have solved and find customers who need your solutions across the government.

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