What do world-class businesses do that everybody else doesn’t?

That’s an important question, and if there was an easy answer you and I would both be billionaires.

Well, there isn’t an easy answer. But there are fundamental traits which every highly successful business share.

Today I’m going to share, from my experience, what I consider to be some of the most important traits separating great businesses from the rest. I’ve applied these lessons to my own businesses, and I’ve helped clients apply them to their businesses to great effect.

  1. Commitment to creating value.  Great businesses understand the mindset of their customers.  When introducing new products and services, the focus is adding value for the customer first and foremost.  The iPhone was a great example of this concept—they understood that consumers weren’t going to buy their phones because of an impressive list of features, they were going to buy the phone that made their life better and easier.  That’s why the marketing campaign for the iPhone was never focused on the specs of the product (like their processor speed)—the focus was always on how the product would make your life better/easier.

  2. A sense of purpose.  Successful businesses are about more than making money.  At the end of the day, if you’re not driven by something beyond money, the passion isn’t going to last.  What’s your purpose… what are you and your company passionate about?  Zappos.com is passionate about customer service.  Amazon is committed to reinventing the shopping experience.  Southwest Airlines is focused on making flying an experience that is actually… enjoyable. (A novel concept!)  Successful businesses have underlying goals that are about more than making money.

  1. Strong, visionary leadership.  There are fundamentally two types of businesses – innovators, and followers.  Innovation doesn’t have to be dramatic.  You don’t have to come up with a revolutionary business model.  But you have to find a way to do something better than your competition in a way that is meaningful to your customer.  That can mean providing great customer service, it can mean developing a game-changing product or service, or it can even mean running a brilliant marketing campaign.  Innovation allows you to set yourself above the competition because they’re not doing what you are doing.  To be innovative, a company must have strong, forward-thinking leadership.  These leaders must be able to spot an opportunity, develop a plan to take advantage of it, and be able to effectively communicate that plan to their employees.

A sense of purpose, commitment to adding value, and visionary leadership.  These three traits are critical to the success of every world-class business. How does your business measure up?