Market differentiation is a challenge faced by nearly every business and in a crowded industry or market, the difficulty increases exponentially.

When I helped found Emmi Solutions 12 years ago, patient satisfaction was considered something “nice to have.” The health-care market has changed a great deal and the term patient engagement, which used to elicit strange looks, has now become one of the most overused buzzwords in the industry, with dozens of companies claiming to be the inventor, pioneer or leader.

Here are some valuable business lessons I've learned on how to stand out in a crowded marketplace:

Related: Defining Your Market in 7 Steps

1. Don’t start a business or enter a market without a compelling reason. You can exchange the word compelling with the phrase “make damn sure there are people willing to pay for it.” As such, your offering should either be a new solution to address a pressing issue (or opportunity) or an improved (read: better, faster, cheaper) approach to a pre-existing solution.

2. Focus on your core competence.  There is no better differentiator than authentic success -- not just yours but the success of your customers, employees and partners. Of course, take advantage of new advancements like different technologies that might improve the way you deliver in your area of core competence but staying focused instead of spreading yourself thin will make for more wins in the end.

3. Understand that your customers are your best resource. It's a lot easier to be successful when you create a something that people really want. Talk to your customers, especially to those who use your product; they are your best source of market intelligence. It’s always better to solve a problem than to create a solution in a vacuum.  

Related: How to Get Your Employees and Customers to Market for You

4. Have your customers be your marketing department. Results speak the loudest. Solve the needs of your clients and in return, they will be ambassadors for your brand. You can’t stop your competition from making false promises and there is always going to be someone with deeper pockets to outspend you.

But you won’t get customers to lie on your behalf and risk their reputation by hyping something that doesn't work. Build something great that people really need (not just that you think is cool), execute like hell and deliver results.

5. Be truly and loudly passionate about your business. After all, if you don't believe it in what you’re doing, how can anyone else? Share this passion with everyone you meet, especially your employees.  

That unified passion will shine through in your products and interactions with customers. This is especially important if your business relies on sales. Your salesperson may be the first touch base with your customer and your customer will best remember a dedicated and passionate sales pitch over all others.

6. Hire and retain the best of the best. Few things are easier to say and tougher to do. There are no shortcuts and its hard work. A company may start with an idea but success comes down to execution. It takes a team of very talented, hard-working people to create and sustain a company till it can become well-known. Take the time and energy to find these people and work tirelessly to make them thrive in your environment. 

Related: Avoid Costly Churn. Provide Candidates a Realistic Job Preview.