It seems as if every couple of years the brethren of Harvard Business come up with a buzzword to preoccupy industry.

Almost in “Wag The Dog” fashion, the words take hold and prevent us from thinking clearly about what it is we really do that would make a customer want to work with us.

Instead, sentences littered with buzzwords plaster themselves across our company mission statements, websites, and marketing collateral as we try to distract our customers from the fact that we have in many cases become increasingly the same, rather than distinctive, in what we do.

From small business to fortune enterprises we have not been shy about adopting the buzzwords straight into our business plans. As interchangeable as bottled water, the term “value add,” is a phrase we all use. Integrator after integrator we march into scope reviews, customer briefings, and design build proposals preaching the value we create through a high touch, customer-oriented approach that yields great results for clients.

The problem is, what is being proclaimed as value add in many cases is becoming more and more what is simply expected from us. Last I checked value add isn’t founded in doing what is expected, yet rather in (ehem) adding value above and beyond. Simple yes, but really true, and sadly it is not often accomplished.

While there is really nothing wrong with stating your business philosophy, the aforementioned focus on high touch, customer-oriented approach is only a problem that we are mistaking this as true value added.

Where does this incongruent use of terminology come from and how do we stop it in order to pave the way for real value creation?

First, we need to take into consideration what is the “norm” in our respective industries. If your organization is trying to sell the concept of what is typical and expected from a business of your type (i.e. customer service or trained technical resources) you need to reconsider. While that may indeed be part of your core business philosophy, it is not truly an added value.

Second, we need to think about what we actually do that is different. Dig a little bit deeper into your bag of tricks and discuss one or two things that truly allow your organization to be different than your competitors. For instance, great customer service is not in itself a value added, however if you can say you respond to 100 percent of customer service inquiries within 30 minutes while the industry average is 8 hours, you would truly be different and that adds value.

Third and perhaps most importantly, ask your clients what it is that makes you better. We spend so much time subscribing to what we think makes us better that we forget we aren’t the ones who truly decide. Most, if not all of our customers have tried other suppliers and have had varying experiences with them. Beyond just the old testimonial, ask them what it is that makes your organization different.

What is the value that they see in continuing to work with you? You will be amazed at what you can learn from asking those already buying from you. What is even more amazing is how often we forget to ask. Don’t miss this opportunity, a wealth of knowledge awaits.

The fact is, the more we dig our heels into the ground and proclaim our value added, the less it seems we pay attention to what the real value we are adding is. What is more profound is that the value is really there.

There is a reason your business has grown, thrived, or at very least survived. However, the reason may not be what you think it is and in fairness to you, your employees, and your customers, it is time to reevaluate what it is that makes you different, better, and truly valuable.

While words like synergy, core competency, and yes, value added may have riddled our communities, remember there is real value in what you do. Harvard doesn’t have the answer for you, it’s your customers, employees, and potentially your biggest successes/failures that will yield the best understanding.

This modified article was originally published here for Commercial Integrator magazine.