When I was a business student, we read a book that is now a classic – “In Search of Excellence.” At that stage in my career, it seemed almost too obvious that doing what you do to the best of your ability would be what everyone in business would be doing.

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that it is less about a desire to be the best and more about the fact that many businesses lose sight of what it is that they are good at. And that leads to mediocrity.

Diversification Doesn’t Always Work

While adding diversity to revenue streams is a must-do for most businesses to stay afloat, losing sight of what you do well can harm your business and make it difficult, sometimes even impossible, to regain lost ground.

There have been some classic examples of this; take Dell. They decided that producing things like PDAs would be a good diversification move for them. It wasn’t, nor were their TVs or their phones or a variety of other gadgets that they tried and failed to make a success of. Why? Because they are a computer company; building low cost, highly useful computers is what they do and they do it well. Other things are a distraction to the business.

Apple is another example. A company who seems to convert everything they touch to gold has been trying to introduce their set-top digital TV box called Apple TV for a few years – with almost no take up. Why? Because that isn’t what the customer wants from them.

Certainly, these examples are not small businesses. But we can often learn from the mistakes of our much larger brethren. What they do on a large scale we are just as likely to do on a smaller scale. Their mistakes can all too easily become our mistakes.

Ask the Right People the Right Questions

So, how can we pull off this feat of focusing on our strengths while at the same time adding new offerings?

The heart of this is to realize not what we consider our strongest offering but what our customers see as our strongest offering. We need to step outside of the business and view it from the perspective of our customers. If we want to ensure that we are always playing to our strengths then we need to understand what those strengths are and why the customer views us as having those strengths.

I read a post recently from a friend who happens to be a freelance developer. He was amazed that he landed one a client based solely on the speed with which he answered his email. Apparently, the client had put out several requests but didn’t receive answers in a timely manner. My friend’s response was the fastest and most accurate. Yet, if you had asked him what his strengths were, he would have probably listed things like knowledge of industry standards, latest developments in coding, etc. Answering emails quickly would probably not topped his list.

What we often see as just run of the mill, our clients and prospective clients will see as strengths that they value in a business. Things we think of as our strengths in business may not be at all important to our clients. And the only way to find that out is to ask your clients questions and give them a chance to share what they see as your strengths.

Make It An Ongoing Process

This type of analysis shouldn’t be a one-time process. Review your offerings, review your services and products, think through your habits and routines and try and see them from the perspective of someone outside your organization on a regular basis. If it helps, you can even have someone from outside review them for you.

Build an inventory of your strengths and start to uncover how you can use them for the benefit of your clients. This ultimately means continuing to do what you’re truly good at…doing what will truly advance your business.