Almost 2 years ago I moved to a new job position. The new position is still in the financial sector but in a completely different industry. Before, I worked in a newly developed product area, where markets were vibrant and opportunities were abundant. Now, I work in a very mature product, where almost no opportunities arise, customers hardly ever switch providers, product is undifferentiated and margins are narrow. Yes, it seems like a downer, and it was during some time, but I'm starting to get a hold of what it looks like to operate in this space.

Lack of differentiation leads to awful price wars, narrow margins and concentration. It is what it is because these dynamics are pretty intrinsic to the context. But, meanwhile, competition in those spaces is an extraordinary subtle and tricky game. On one hand, managing the balance between operating efficiently, but under a controlled environment becomes an extraordinary challenge, where one notch ahead of your competitor is the difference between profit or loss. If you work in such a slim space, process design, proper handling of handoffs between different teams and careful systems design become key. Under no other condition the way you structure a process flow can be so determining.

But then it comes the even more fun stuff. To imagine what it is like to compete here, imagine you've just set up a McDonalds franchise and suddenly someone else sets up another one on the other side of the street. A Big Mac's a Big Mac and the place looks just the same. Only one can win. How can you make a difference so that people will choose you?

Well, you have the obvious: dump prices until the other suffocates, that is surely an option (and unfortunately a prisoners dilemma that tends to turn true). But if we discard that and hope that the industry has learned that we all would rather concentrate than destroy the market, we all would probably agree on the ultimate differentiating area: people. A smile at the counter, or a nice "hey, good to see you again!" would totally make you switch from one place to the other. So here comes the challenge: how can you make people happy at work?

Two years ago, smiling was not a big deal when it came to win customers. It was all a features game. Now smiling is a big part of the game, so I think about smiling more now than ever. I'll keep on sharing so... To be continued...