Few would question this simple truth: Businesses must differentiate. Growth, profit—survival, even—hinge on their ability to set themselves apart from competition.

Professors Terrell and Middlebrooks of the Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, respectively, say it well:

Service companies need to dare to be different. To find a leadership position in the market...and then to lead. The key strategy is to be different from competitors.... They break free from "be better," internally oriented initiatives to "be different," externally oriented strategies. Being different is grounded in providing customers with unique value that they cannot get from any other competitor.1

They go on to cite McKinsey as their first example.

The "need" for differentiation is so well accepted, it's considered simplistic to even make the case for differentiation. Why make a case for something everyone already knows?

Much of the differentiation conversation therefore centers more on how to do it and how strongly to do it. (Terrell and Middlebrooks go as far as to say you should position yourself so far opposite competitors that they coin the nifty term "oppositioning" to describe it.)

That we need to be differentiated at all... accepted without further thought.

I disagree. Put some further thought in it. Most everything I've read and heard about differentiation is wrong. I suspect the same is true for you.

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Mike Schultz is president of RAIN Group, a global sales training and performance improvement company, and director of the RAIN Group Center for Sales Research. He is the bestselling author of Rainmaking Conversations and Insight Selling. He also writes for the RAIN Selling Blog.

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Twitter: @mike_schultz