As a growth consultant for small businesses, I’ve enjoyed many opportunities to see how various small businesses function, especially those that have operated for a number of years. In an age of understaffed companies and conflicting and competing demands, most of these companies are so busy helping their customers that they don’t take the time to help themselves.

They tend to lose sight of what I call the extraordinary that lies at the heart of the ordinary in their operations–the characteristics that make them special and unique. One such company in Butler County is W.K. Thomas.

The president of this company lacked a formal marketing program and realized that traditional, relationship selling would not get him to where he wanted to be—in the scarce space of marketing and sales in their respective businesses. Now, he’s changing his company to achieve that.

Thus far in our work together, he’s focused on expanding his values and defining and honing what I call his individual Best and Highest Use®. Best is what he loves to do. Highestis what he does really well. And Use relates to what his customers value and are willing to pay for.

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Under the leadership of Brent Thomas, W. K. Thomas & Associates provides pre-engineered steel building and construction services to the commercial, industrial, community, and religious markets throughout Western Pennsylvania.  Brent’s father, Bill, now Vice President, established W.K. Thomas in 1974 as a custom-home builder and general contractor. Since then, the company has remained a privately owned, family company.

Other firms rely heavily on the service offerings of project management and estimating as commodities to drive business forward. They end up competing in a market where bottom dollar pricing and the resulting low-quality construction become the norm.  But Brent Thomas is linking the brand of W.K. Thomas to pre-engineered steel buildings as the company’s big differentiator and is driving revenues up. His company is growing a reputation in Butler County as the go-to company for these types of buildings.

“I’ve stepped outside of being jack of all trades,” says Thomas, “I’m focusing on pre-engineered steel buildings, which is our Best and Highest Use, have taken on more responsibility for sales, and I’m reorganizing our team to help energize this new direction.”

When I began working with Brent Thomas, he had a strong, well-established business with great potential for growth and wanted to take his company to the next level.  What made sense for him was my ability to find the extraordinary within the ordinary of his company. My approach has been to find the characteristics that make him special and different from his competitors, and to cultivate these aspects into exciting opportunities to grow his business.

Working with him and his customers has led me to understand his product lines, how they add value, and how they develop special relationships with his customers, whose feedback is critical to our endeavor.

The upshot is that now W.K. Thomas is becoming more aggressive in proclaiming its value and more consistently educating its customers about what it can do to help them. Thus far, we’ve focused on expanding Brent’s values and defining and honing his individual Best and Highest Use®.

Throughout my years of consulting with businesses like W.K. Thomas, I’ve deployed this approach to help more than 430 businesses owners identify the specific markets that’s right for them and their companies. This has had a $450-million impact on the economy.

Best and Highest Use also immunizes companies against the “Be All Things to All People” disease. This disease is as common as a cold, but it’s as deadly as the plague for small businesses.

When business owners fail to target specific markets in this way, a number of consequences occur, all of which are bad. Their companies aren’t special. They’re mediocre, forgettable, or worse. People can’t refer customers to them. Their companies attract unqualified prospects and waste resources on prospects who could care less about their offers. This, in turn, diminishes their efforts with regard to prospects who do.

What’s more, best use helps business owners to resolve the greatest pain or create the greatest opportunity for a narrow slice of a market. This creates a crucial intersection for them between their companies, their Best and Highest Use, and the needs of their customers.

Over time, I’ve had the privilege of learning, using, and teaching a variety of growth tools for organizations. We’ve used a variety of names for these processes, including strategic planning, management by objectives, sales management, and incentive compensation. Too often, these systems steamroller over the interests of the users. The fact is that old-fashioned, autocratic tools just don’t work anymore.

More than a few times, I’ve had people challenge my concept of Best and Highest Use, saying that it’s just another term for distinctive competence, one of the buzz words that periodically make the rounds of corporations and MBA programs. In one way, they’re right. Best and Highest Use is essentially distinctive competence for business owners. The difference – and it’s a large one –is that although distinctive competence speaks clinically of skill sets and marketplace advantages, Best and Highest Use involves an owner’s emotions, goals, and personality.

One concept I hear kicked around is the term, best practices. But this assumes that all firms start out and grow and stay completely equal. To center your business on best practices is to deny, ignore, and disrespect your Best and Highest Use. How can you ever tell if you are better or worse than you should be if you only judge yourself on the basis of the lowest, common denominator of other companies?

Working together, Brent Thomas and I continue to focus on his individual Best and Highest Use to translate new customer demand into substantial, dramatic growth and confidence in his abilities.

In the short and medium term, we’re tailoring initiatives designed to achieve profitable sales growth. At the same time, this company leader is experiencing a renewed excitement and passion for his business. At a time of economic hardships when competitors are pulling back or taking cover, their passion and excitement is giving him confidence to make it work.

As we reinforce the abilities of W.K. Thomas to deliver higher value at lower cost, we’re decommoditizing the company.

This is not to say it’s easy. For one thing, Brent has had to break old habits. That’s difficult. But my goal is to push him out of  his comfort zone in a way that causes willingness to raise new behaviors while preventing him from making ultra-risky, bet-the-company decisions like introducing price changes to gain market share, hiring non-producing sales people, or getting rid of a sales force.

As I work with companies like his that have enjoyed years of success, I’ve enabled them to make course corrections a step at a time. The end result has been that they’ve sharpened their views on the kinds of businesses they want, the kinds of services they deliver, and they’ve stopped trying to be all things to all people. These are hard choices that emerge from recognizing that everything they may be involved in is not a business.