THE BLOG
03/20/2013 09:24 am ET Updated May 19, 2013

Positioning: Success Comes From Knowing Who NOT to Do Business With

You're looking to always improve. You wouldn't be reading this post if you weren't someone always scanning the horizon, in the pursuit of better. I'm willing to bet that at some point during your constant pursuit of better, you've been encouraged to "keep your options open." More options means greater opportunities...

...or so you thought. I am not here to tell you to keep your options open. In fact I'm here to do just the opposite.

It might often be the perfect advice given a particular situation, but what has begun to unnerve me is the rate at which it is infiltrating business strategies throughout the various markets. Whether it be companies or solitary individuals (change makers, entrepreneurs, and socialpreneurs alike), the approach of late is literally to try and be everything to everyone.

At ChangeLabs we have been conducting research for an upcoming book that explores how companies are winning their unfair share in the markets that are so frequently commoditized today. We've noted the greatest success not from those competing on volume, but from those demonstrating expertise in niche spaces. One of those success stories comes from DPR Construction - an epic company that has completely redefined what it means to do construction. One of their company core values is literally "ever forward."

DPR: A Case Study

You wouldn't necessarily think of construction as that glamorous of an industry. The industry space is predominantly occupied by a bunch of general contractors who go by the same specs to build the same product for a client. Assuming that they all have sufficient skills to complete the job, their only point of differentiation is price. So how does anyone manage to stand out amidst the noise of this commoditized market?

"We exist to build great things." This is the purpose of DPR, a company that bases decisions off of its two central beliefs - to respect the individual and change the world. Those aren't exactly the principles you'd expect to be driving a construction company, but that's what helps DPR set themselves apart from their competition. They've even worked with business guru Jim Collins to elevate their strategy, impressing even him with their never-ending commitment to improve:

"I have met with very few companies where the desire to be great is as sincere as this company." -Jim Collins

Beyond having an aspirational, and for that matter inspirational company culture, DPR epitomizes what it means to be intentional and define niche spaces. DPR has figured a way to compete based not on what they build but on how they build and who they build for. They've strategically selected five markets and almost exclusively build for Advanced Technology, Corporate Offices, Healthcare, Higher Education, and Life Sciences. They have certainly moved away from the general contractor trying to be everything to everyone and have elevated their offering, building complex structures for deliberate clients.

They even have a systematic process to select their specific clientele, making sure that a job aligns to their capabilities and company values. If personalities aren't a match, DPR is not afraid to say "no" to business and turn down a client. Talk about being deliberate!

When they first started in 1990, DPR recognized that they had an opportunity to do things differently in an industry resistant to change. The founders will be the first to admit that starting a construction company in a market that was in a state of flux was a bold move, but they have certainly seen the rewards from taking such a risk. Through their commitment to a strategic discipline, though, they were able to make it a calculated risk:

"Our culture of discipline reflects our entrepreneurial spirit and characterizes every part of our business. To be truly great, we must understand what we do best and stick vigorously to that single-minded pursuit."

So what did they ultimately learn? "With greater discipline comes more freedom."

Did I mention that this company has the aspirational goal to be recognized as one of the most admired companies (not just in construction) by 2030. They are well on their way - all because they are focused on delivering exceptional service to a very specific client base.

The Takeaway

Trying to be everything to everyone results not from being aspirational, but from being scared. If you are fearful that people won't accept your offering, you might try to make it more generic to achieve greater appeal. At this point though, you might as well be begging for business, and I bet you've also heard the phrase beggars can't be choosers.

Be proactive, get focused, and decide exactly what you want to offer and exactly who your ideal audience is. Instead of trying to sort of appeal to the masses, focusing on supply, architect your offering so that it perfectly aligns to what a very tangible group demands. It's ok if everyone doesn't want to buy from you - in fact, it's better because it likely means you've made yourself invaluable to a very specific market.

In the video below, I dive deeper into why your fear of being focused is not only unfounded but that by being sharp you will actually massively increase your impact and the speed with which your offer gains traction in the market. Ironically, you will find that the freedom which actually makes us fear specialization will in fact elude us until we specialize.

Positioning - Sharp from Peter Sheahan on Vimeo.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Peter Sheahan on the topic of Making It Happen in Small Business, focused on turning those with the ideas into those with the influence. To see all of the posts in the series, click here.

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