Seven characteristics of remarkable businesses


Is your business 'remarkable'? I mean 'really remarkable'? What does that actually mean? What exactly makes a business 'remarkable'? Well, in simple terms, you could say it's anything that gets people 'remarking'. People don't talk about 'average' stuff, 'ok' stuff or 'not bad' stuff. They talk about 'outstanding', 'amazing', 'brilliant' and 'remarkable' stuff. They also talk about 'poor', 'terrible' 'disappointing' and 'remarkably bad' stuff. But it is the businesses that create positive remarks that we're focusing on in this article.

So, 'remarkable' per se isn't the goal. Being remarked on for something that is poor or simply doing remarkable things for customers that don't make commercial sense or that exploit employees is not what this is about. Our experience suggests that leading a successful business, regardless of size, involves managing a balance between three things:

  1. Creating sufficient devoted customers
  2. Developing a team of committed, motivated and effective people
  3. Maximising financial returns

The challenges facing business leaders today are greater than ever. Ever rising customer and employee expectations, increasing competition (coming from further afield), greater transparency, reduction in trust and customer loyalty, the increasing pace and dramatic effects of change and squeezes on resources and margins are just some of the issues the leaders of today tell us they face.

However, many businesses are not only surviving, but are thriving in this ever-changing environment. How are they doing it? What exactly makes them 'different'? How do they differentiate themselves and what can we learn from them? We call them 3D businesses and they are Dramatically and Demonstrably Different from their competitors.

How do 3D businesses do it? Well, there are no magical answers, but there are clearly some common characteristics that differentiate remarkable businesses from the rest. We've identified seven themes on which to reflect and build a way forward for your own business.

Your challenge is to work out what they mean for you, your business and how you lead your business; how you measure up; and – crucially - where you need to focus your resources and efforts.

1: They Have That Vision Thing!
3D businesses know where they're going. All their people do too. They have a clear vision that inspires, engages and motivates everyone in the business (and often their customers too – that's what they buy into!).

This vision isn't a set of figures or pie-in-the-sky dreams, but a meaningful picture of the future that creates focus, direction, passion and commitment. 3D businesses develop committed, motivated and effective people at every level – this does not happen by chance! They proactively get buy-in to their vision and values, ensure that everyone understands where they fit in and how they are doing. (Here's how Pret A Manger engage their people)

2: They Keep In Control!
In this ever increasingly fast-paced world, getting and keeping in control is critical. In 3D businesses the leaders ensure that the people get the information they need, when they need it and in a format they understand. This starts with the establishing and using meaningful Key Performance Indicators to lead and drive the business.

They establish systems for feedback – from customers, communities and networks, as well as from employees. 3D businesses measure things like Net Promoter Score (How likely are you to refer us to your friends and colleagues?) and use these to monitor, drive (and reward) performance. This is not simply about ticking boxes.

3: It's About A Dramatic Difference!
'Dramatic Difference' is "an unmatchable bundle of products, services, skills, methods and practices that differentiate a business from its competitors". This can centre around what you do and /or how you do it. It is only any good if customers want it, recognise it, and are prepared to pay for it – better still, if they are prepared to pay more for it! (Here's how Apple does things)

A 'Dramatic Difference' doesn't happen by chance. It often means breaking the rules, doing things that competitors aren't doing or can't do. The benefit of a 'Dramatic Difference' is that it really is remarkable – people do 'remark' about it. Dramatic Differences maximise the power of 'word of mouth' and, evermore crucially, 'word of mouse'!

4: It's All About The Experience
3D businesses engage everyone in striving to create 'delighted' and 'devoted' customers who come back for more and tell others. It starts with being easy to buy from and easy to deal with. It means consistency and it means everyone focusing on customers wherever they are in the business and ensuring the systems and processes reinforce this. (Check out how Amazon do it)

They strive to delight their customers which means exceeding customer expectations. By definition, doing this raises customer expectations. But 3D businesses relish and embrace this, and work hard to raise the bar. They make their customers feel valued. Customers have high expectations and consistently receive a great experience ('great' as defined by the customers, not the business!) It's about building a brand that stands for something and everything the business does needs to reflect and reinforce that.

5: Dialogue, not Diatribes!
3D businesses recognise it's about maximising relationships and that this is not a one way thing.! They also know that customers need to be engaged. As a result, they develop dialogue, not diatribes, and work hard at ongoing engagement with their customers, their networks and their communities.

That means interacting on a personal and business level and tailoring the experience specifically to each customer to help 'lock them in' with the 'ties that bind'. That can take the form of added value, thought leadership, education, interaction or innovation. They create, sustain and develop a recipe that works for their groups of customers (or 'tribes', as the best 3D businesses have).

It's about letting customers recognise the personalisation and feel part of it. The more personalised it feels, the more difficult it is for competitors to get in there! (Here's how First Direct do it)

6: Create An UBER Culture!
3D businesses deliver and they deliver consistently. Their culture is tangible and customers experience that culture simply by talking to and interacting with employees, whether it's by email, on the telephone or face to face.

Consistency comes from developing an UBER culture that creates real competitive advantage and reinforce their Dramatic Difference. They ensure that: everyone Understands the culture and what's expected of the them and that employees consistently behave in line with that culture; Systems and processes are Built to reinforce and support that culture; employees are Encouraged, Enabled and Empowered to live the culture; and they Reward and Recognise those that live it!

It's clear that this stuff doesn't happen by chance. 3D businesses proactively take steps that help develop an UBER culture. They Champion their Champions and crucially Challenge their Challengers – they find, recruit, develop, promote people who 'fit' and are not afraid to get rid of those that don't. (Here's Google's 'take' on this)

7: Keep Working 'ON'!
3D businesses recognise that Developing their Dramatic Difference is an ongoing process. They know that standing still actually means going backwards and that they need to drive and develop their Dramatic Difference continuously. It is not left to chance.

It's about 'evaluatiON' – systematically checking on progress against goals and targets, it's about 'innovatiON' – having proactive processes to improve what they do, it's about 'communicatiON' - keeping people informed of plans and progress and it's about 'motivatiON', getting and keeping people on board (which takes us nicely back to 'Characteristic #1…. Get That Vision Thing!)

Three Questions to get you '3D Thinking'.

  • What is your Dramatic Difference?
  • Do all your people know and live it?
  • Do your customers and potential customers recognise it?
  • And a bonus question: What are you going to DO as a result?

3D Thinking is a way of doing things. It's a philosophy. It's an attitude. Crucially, it's one that is shared at every level of the business and drives performance. It looks different in every business, and there are no simple lists of things to do, or rules to follow.

The challenge for every business today is to establish what its Dramatic Difference actually is, do everything it can to Demonstrate that Difference in everything it does and keep doing it. It's about leadership, it's about culture, it's about processes, and it's about PEOPLE!

Andy has a free white paper that you can download to explore this all in more detail.

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About The Author

Andy Hanselman
Andy Hanselman

Andy Hanselman helps businesses and their people think in 3D. That means being Dramatically and Demonstrably Different. An expert on business competitiveness, he has spent well over 20 years researching, working with, and learning from, successful fast growth businesses. His latest book, The 7 Characteristics of 3D Businesses, reveals how businesses can get ahead, and stay ahead of their competitors.