3 Steps to Be the Best (Not the Biggest)
Tom Stimson
January 6, 2023
A successful business owner stands smiling with his arms crossed in front of his leadership team.

Everyone dreams of being King of the Mountain. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s human nature.

Owners come to me all the time wanting to get their business to the next level, whatever the next level means to them. Then the goal is to elevate to the next level, and then the level after, and so on. The idea is to hit all the levels until they reach the height of [insert erstwhile competitor here].

They want to challenge the King.

Reality Check

Everybody thinks they’re the best at something, and most want to be the best at more things. They think that being the best at a lot of things will move them up the mountain. And that may be true in many cases.

But the fact of the matter is that the King of the Mountain is rarely good at everything.

The King of the Mountain is very good at making their customers believe that they’re good enough. That’s where not letting perfect get in the way of good comes in. Maybe being at the top of the mountain shouldn’t be your goal. Maybe being a very clear second choice is the best place to be.

Being at the top doesn’t mean you’re the best.

Take a look at who’s at the top of the mountain in any segment of our industry. Who’s the biggest, baddest company that everybody wishes they could be and that looks like they have it all figured out?

Guess what? They’re generally very bad (even terrible) at filtering their sales funnel. They’re very reactive about who they do business with. Their brand isn’t targeted at ideal buyers — they target everyone. They’re full of vertical offerings and pockets of services.

Why? Because part of what puts them at the top of the mountain is volume. But higher volume doesn’t mean you’re excellent at what you do.

Excellence vs. Volume

If you want to be excellent, you have to understand that excellence is going to be just below the top. Why? To be excellent, you have to filter some things out.

The King of the Mountain is generally the King of Volume. If you’re striving for excellence, stop trying to be King of the Mountain. It’s overrated.

Don’t get me wrong. Volume does have some benefits. It enhances your brand, and makes you look big and invincible. People assume you’re extremely capable because you’re the big dog.

There’s some strategic advantage to being King of the Mountain, but there can only be one King. It’s asking too much for most companies to try and take that top spot. Don’t let your ego get in the way. There’s a better spot, and it’s just below the top.

There might be two or three companies just below the top. The beauty of this is that these companies don’t have to defend their position. They don’t have to continually act like they’re the biggest, baddest company around. They don’t have to field jobs that are going to be difficult and maybe even unprofitable because of their position.

3 Steps to Excellence Just Below the Top

The King of the Mountain company may have the most volume, but that doesn’t mean they’re the most profitable. It’s often the people just below the peak who are much more successful and able to do more excellent work.

If that’s where you want to be, follow the three steps below.

Infographic: ISL - 1/9/23

1. Excel at Filtering

If you don’t have criteria for moving prospects through each level of your sales funnel, then you’re going to end up with a lot of noise.

Noise is a distraction. Without a clear filter, you’ll find yourself chasing unqualified leads just because you’ve invested too much time in them. But unqualified leads become unqualified customers. It’s better to eliminate the unqualified customer earlier and avoid the waste of your time and effort.

Instead, understand how ideal customers get into a position to actually buy from you, and invest your time and energy into navigating ideal prospects into that position.

2. Position Your Brand to Target Ideal Buyers

Businesses at or near the top of the mountain don’t have an accidental brand. They put time and energy into their brand. There’s thought behind it. There’s consideration that goes into creating a brand that appeals to an ideal buyer.

If you’re trying to appeal to a broad swath, then you’re missing the point.

Don’t fall for a volume-focused pipe dream. It’s really easy to grow a business. You just need to have really bad aim.

Instead, position your brand to target ideal buyers to reduce the need for filtering inbound leads and free up resources for high-value opportunities.

3. Eliminate “Mid-Mountain” Offers

Halfway up the mountain, the path is crowded with buyers and sellers, especially if the customer is on a popular path. This means 60% to 80% of industry market share is below the peak. Because of this, a lot of offers are found mid-mountain.

However, if you’re targeting an ideal buyer, you don’t need to create products and services as additional entry points. When you do, you produce a mid-mountain offer. It’s unnecessary, and it actually drags you back down toward the bottom.

When you’re playing at this level, customers already assume you have all the tools anyway. But by creating mid-mountain offers, you begin to productize and commoditize yourself. You distract customers with the how, when what you’re really selling is the what.

I saw a lot of this during the pandemic with studio rentals. Companies kept offering to rent studios. It took a few months for them to realize that the studio was an unnecessary offer. It was simply a tool. Nobody rents a studio; they hire you for what the studio does.

Studio rentals became a mid-mountain offer. You were still doing shows. Studios and online meeting platforms were just tools in your toolbox to help your customer achieve shows in different environments.

Mid-mountain offers are distractions that take away from what your ideal buyer wants. The fact is, whatever your ideal buyer wants, you’re going to get it for them. It doesn’t have to be on your website for you to say yes.

Final Thoughts

In theory, being King sounds like the obvious choice. But sitting at the top doesn’t mean you’re the most skilled, the most well-run, or the most profitable. It does mean lots of volume, and lots of stress.

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

Instead of aiming for the top, I suggest setting your sights just below. Enjoy the rewards of slightly off-peak success. Strive to be the best, not the biggest.

About Tom Stimson
Tom Stimson MBA, CTS is an authority on business and strategy for small- to medium-sized companies. He is an expert on project-based selling and a thought leader for innovative business processes.
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