Don't just follow the leader

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This article appeared in the March, 2010 issue of CRN magazine.

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Don't just follow the leader

Charles Caleb Colton was born in 1780 so it might seem unusual to be quoting him in the leading technology magazine in the land but his most famous quote rang true with me (excuse the pun) in a recent experience with competing mobile phone platforms - and there is something I believe we can all learn as resellers from the experience.

I have been doing more work than usual lately with mobile devices.

I have not been chasing this type of work, but I have had some specific solutions which clients required which meant that I needed to use mobile devices to solve business problems. The normal sort of thing that we all do every day.

I analysed the needs of the client and gave them a solution based around their specific requirements. As with most consulting work, the actual hardware or platform or software is a little irrelevant - the important component is the final solution.

And this is where Charles Colton comes in. The aphorism, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" is attributed to Charles and it is here that I see the smartphone manufacturers competing with each other at the "me too" level.

My 12-year-old daughter has an iPhone and she loves it. She likes how it syncs her emails and her contacts but doesn't care too much about her calendar. But she absolutely loves the array of games and songs and movies she can download through iTunes. I don't even dare take on my daughter at Tap Tap Revenge as she is the reigning household champion and I am sure she would beat me at most of the games she has installed.

One of the strengths I see from the iPhone is the ability to download apps and most people see this as a major strength - including Gartner. US$4.2 billion (A$4.7 billion) was spent on mobile phone apps last year with Apple having a 99.4 percent share of this market.

Think about the price of most of these apps and you soon realise that the figure of 2.5 billion downloads is realistic. The prediction for this year is that US$6.8 billion will be spent on apps. With Apple taking 30 percent commission this is all great for Apple and for developers who produce such vital software as iBeer V3.05 with new fat bubbles and iFart mobile (which pulls in about $10,000 a day).

What I have seen recently is a terrible case of metoo-ism. RIM has effectively told the world that anything Apple can do it can do as well (maybe not better but we can do something similar). "They have 100,000 apps, we have 5000. They have gimmicky apps for 99c, we have more serious gimmicky apps for $2.99." You get my drift.

The BlackBerry is a great business tool. I still think it syncs Outlook - all of Outlook - better than any other device on the market. Its proprietary BES system and clever compression of attachments means that it seems more efficient than any other smartphone.

If those are your strengths, push them (another bad pun - I am on fire today). Don't try and be what the guy next door is. The problem with imitation is that, by definition, you can only ever be second. If you follow, you have to have someone to follow and that someone is the leader. If you want to be the leader, then you can't imitate someone else.

At the moment, RIM still has a 20 percent share of the smartphone market, higher than Apple's 17 percent. BlackBerry has that lead because it has a business solution that people like. If its strategy is to try to out-Apple Apple then it is in for a tough ride. Do what you do well, I always believe, and keep doing it - but better.

It is the same in our businesses. Some of my staff become frustrated when they see our competitors doing what we do. They become annoyed because they shouldn't be allowed to copy us.

I sit back and smile. If the best our competitors can do is copy us, then we have them beaten already.

Make sure in your business you don't copy your opposition but work out ways to do what you do well and do it better than anyone else. Then let them try to copy you! You were there first and you have worked out the pitfalls.

Imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery and also the greatest way to start your business on the road to decline.

Tell me if you are a follower or a leader and what you do better than anyone else at mathew.dickerson@smallbusinessrules.com.

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