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The best way to build a competitive edge is still to understand our customers’ needs.

I’m not sure whether any of you have been following this column since 2004, when I first started contributing. At that time, the title was “Competitive edge,” and most of my early columns attempted to answer the question, “How does a person in the benefits business gain a competitive edge?” This month, we’ll go back and discuss how (and whether) gaining a competitive edge in our business has changed over the past 16 years.

The ideas discussed in those early columns turned out to be more timeless than I expected. The very first column I could find (I lost copies of some old columns years ago in a flood) discussed gaining an edge by choosing the right critical illness product. It analyzed why CI products meet an important need for employees and their dependents. That certainly seems contemporary, doesn’t it?

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