LeBron James makes what my southern grandmother used to call "sweet Jesus!" money. It's because we pay to stand in awe of his abilities. But standing in awe of his bankroll? That's a waste of valuable time. Here's what I mean.
LeBron makes his money, and exponentially billions more dollars for TV networks, shoe companies and donut shops, doing what the vast majority of us tried to do and failed. If the dents in the garage door of my middle school home could talk, they would tell you I actually did spend 10,000 hours in the driveway missing layups and clanking free throws off the front, back, and underside of the rim, proving to Malcom Gladwell that not everyone can be great with herculean effort alone.
Basketball is a simple sport to understand. LeBron does what billions of us cannot. As entrepreneurs, it is our job, our career calling, to find out what we do to make others stand in awe of us. In turn, we get paid handsomely if we do it.
LeBron James has both fans, who are his customers, and competition, the other players on the court. Understanding you already spend a lot of time assessing the competition, let's instead look at what customers assess when deciding if they want to become fans of your business, whether they do it consciously or not. There are three simple degrees of measure to rating you fan base.
Cost of entry to earn a Fan: Do something customers don't want to do. Trillions of dollars are spent by organizations outsourcing work either not in their core competency or work that is just too annoying to do. This is obviously still a good business, but when we do something our customers can just do themselves, our business relationship is in great risk- at best. The janitorial industry took a significant punch in the gut during the recession because, deep down, people know they can empty their own trash cans. When belts tighten, everyone looks for things they can do without. They might hate to do it, but when they cannot afford the luxury, those are the first to go.
Finding a Season Ticket Holder: Do something customers don't know how to do. This is a reasonably safe place to be, but it is not without vulnerability. These customers are for the most part loyal, but if you let them down they might just learn how to do the task, or more likely just find someone to do the same thing cheaper. This is the world of oil changes and airlines. The vast majority of consumers will go by price or loyalty. Anyone can learn how to change their own oil, but it's pretty low on the priority list. The bulk of businesses are in this category, making competition fierce. Everyone is after the billions of dollars here, making for shorter lifespans of businesses chasing said greenbacks. My CEO coach taught me the major strategic mistake most businesses make is to frame competition as about being the best--competing in the same arena. However, through that framework, no company really is or stays the best for long. It is the companies who create their own arena, or invent the playing field and play where no one else is playing win the game of strategic differentiation. Which leads to...
Earning Lifelong Fanatics: Offer something your customers simply cannot do. These industries get to set their price and will be around until someone either out innovates them or their offerings become instantly antiquated. Medicine, aerospace, there are obvious ones. To make it even more difficult to stay in this game, every industry, the aforementioned especially, is in a constant state of evolution. Making sure to do what your customers cannot is a fulltime job. Which is exactly why this is where you need to be as an entrepreneur.
Establish whatever you do for business as absolutely essential to your customers' success. Make that even better by keeping them in awe of what you do. The best way to guarantee the future of any company is to stay indispensable. The only way to do that is to nurture a fan base and keep them in awe of your abilities.
Nobody but one person can be LeBron James on the basketball court. But we absolutely must make people marvel. In truth, that's all he really does. Learn from him. Understand his worth. And be like LeBron.