Banking and small business lending is more competitive now than it has ever been. If you're not asking yourself, "Why would a small business owner choose my bank for their next small business loan?" you should. Organizationally, if you can't answer that question, your customers will look at what you do to as a commodity and will blow wherever the wind takes them. Several years ago, I learned that competitive advantages don't just happen, we decide to have them. Jet Blue asks themselves three questions every day, we should all be doing the same thing: \tWhat do we do better than our competition? \tWhat do they do better than us? \tHow can we do that better than they do it? One of the biggest revelations for me was learning that competitive advantage is not about the products we offer, it's about the deliverables. In other words, it's usually not about the things we charge for and a legitimate advantage offers the following traits: \tIt must be objective: It can't be subjective. For example, "We provide great customer service," is not a competitive advantage. "We answer every phone call within the first three rings with a live operator," would be a competitive advantage. We can measure how many rings it takes before a live operator answers the phone. It's not subjective, it's an objective measure of what our customer service people do. \tIt must differentiate from the competition: It needs to be something our competitors aren't doing. For example, if none of your competitors are answering the phone with live operators and are using automatic answering machines, answering the phone with a live operator would be a competitive advantage. \tIt must be measurable: The first example is good because we can count how many rings it takes before we answer the phone, we can measure over time how we do, and we can score our results. You can't say we answer within the first three rings if we don't do it, but if we can demonstrate that we can, it's a competitive advantage. \tOur competition can't already be claiming it (we need to say it first): For example, Volvo and Honda have roughly the same safety rating, but if Honda claimed to be the "safest car in the world" we'd laugh at them. Volvo made that claim and demonstrated it by driving a car of a three-story building. Even today, Volvo still pretty much owns that competitive advantage. \tIt can't be a "given" or a cliche: When I go to a movie theater, I expect to sit in a comfortable seat. Claiming comfortable seats wouldn't be a competitive advantage. Advertising that 40 seats in every theater are Lay-Z-Boy recliners might be. \tIt must be true: In order for it to be a competitive advantage, it must be true. For example, if you claim to successfully address every customer service issue within 48 hours, and it takes a week, the claim isn't true and it isn't a competitive advantage. \tIt must mater to the customer: If your competitive advantage doesn't matter to the customer, it doesn't matter and it isn't a competitive advantage. If your customers don't care whether or not a live operator answers the phone, it doesn't matter how important that is to you, it isn't a competitive advantage. The problem with knowing what a competitive advantage is, is the temptation to claim what you would like the ideal to be when you don't really deliver. For example, your customer service goal might be to answer the phone before the third ring, but in reality it's more like the fifth ring. You can't claim three rings until you can actually do it. Backing up your performance with facts will demonstrate you're serious about your advantage and make it impossible for your competitors to say, "We do that too." That said, this easy four-step process will help you create a real competitive advantage: \tIdentify the deliverables \tIdentify the competitive advantages \tLearn what your customers think is important \tApply the results In some ways, your product or service is what you provide to show up and play in the market, it's the un-invoicable deliverables that really set you apart and create real competitive advantage.