“We’re Different” is an Expensive Sentence

Sometimes it’s the things we say (and think) that end up being overly costly. I’m on the lookout for Expensive Sentences, and below is one I hear too often. You might hear it, too.

“We’re Different” is an Expensive Sentence®

When you’re selling, being different is a good thing. (Ian Altman and I write about this in our upcoming book Same Side Selling.)

When you’re running your business or buying, being different can be dangerous and costly.

The “we’re special” or “we’re different” mentality keeps a team looking inward instead of outward, and usually means that standard rules of business don’t apply. It also provides license to work inefficiently. If you hear this claim at your company, think it through with your team:

  • “How is it that we’re different. Let’s write down the top five ways in which we are different. Do you think we SHOULD be different in these ways? Why? Why not?”
  • “Do you think our number one competitor would be different in the same way? Is it possible we could fall behind if we don’t change?”

Every organization has a set of unique capabilities and challenges; we all know that. But the Expensive Sentence “We’re Different” is highly correlated with reluctance to change, laziness, and an unwillingness to face the full truth.

No Excuses

A claim of being different can be thinly veiled excuse. When you heard it last, was it one of the following?

  • A reason not to adopt or even consider best practices
  • A reason to postpone new technologies
  • An excuse for lower-quality service level to end customers
  • A dismissal of an outside perspective that could be useful (from a customer, consultant, or another department)
  • A reluctance to accept that a competitor may threaten market position

To cut through excuses and get to action, try this two-part reality check question (borrowed from Susan Scott in her book Difficult Conversations):

Part A: If a competitor came to town with unlimited budget and started from scratch with the goal of taking all of our business, what would they do that we are not doing?

Part B: Why can’t we do that?

If the answer to part B is “We’re Different,” then it’s time to re-write that Expensive Sentence.

Do the questions above help? I’d love to hear about it.

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