Winning in the Marketplace – Exciting Strategies Get Results!
Third of a Three-Part Series
By J. Allen | Published July 11, 2017
Do you remember “Creating a Market?”
Are you equipped to Out Maneuver the Competition?
Are you ready to engage in the multi-dimensional chessboard of the strategic contest? Is your team open to transforming some of your business? Do they feel “ownership” of the outcome? Has your team, collectively and individually, gained sufficient insight into your customers, customers’ customers, suppliers, strategic partners, etc. to identify their problems, opportunities, and strategic decision dilemmas? Are they truly ready, or are you just hopeful? Have they ever really engaged in strategic combat – competing “tooth and nail,” “hand to hand,” “in the trenches” – winning with customers?
Time to Look Ahead to the “Offsite”
Imagine the critical day in the near future: It’s sometime in mid-August – Long Range Planning time! A few precious days set aside for you and your leadership team to devote all of their energy to planning for the future. It’s time to see if this team can do it – really do it. In that August timeframe, as the leader of this organization, you will have done everything you can to prepare your team to have the best possible outcome. The stage is set – the flipcharts, markers, healthy breakfast and large urns of coffee are in place. You’ve confirmed that the pre-work investigations were completed and shared, the required pre-read package was digested by your leadership team.
You’ve personally held discussion sessions regarding the new market research results, to make sure that your planning session didn’t turn into an extended Q&A/argument about the meaning of the data. You’ve had all the pre-arguments you need to have – telling Bill he’s not allowed to use the occasion to showcase his thought leadership points that everyone’s already heard. You’ve asked Jessica to ditch the tiresome story telling aspect of her contributions. You’ve even cleared the idea of including some of the high potential employees, up-and-comers in your organization, in the session with the core leadership team.
Imagine the Kick-Off is “Now”
Having run the scenarios repeatedly in your mind, you are pleased with your decision to include some fresh faces in the room. Fresh faces mean fresh minds and opinions. New ways of thinking are required, and frankly you don’t see any of the long-term management team stepping up with new ideas.
Here you sit, with 30 minutes before the session starts, staring at your notepad in front of you – literally headlined: “HOW we are going to succeed this time?” And thinking: “Did we really make a difference last time? Did we truthfully transform anything in the last year?” Is the space below the head line blank, or just a few mild-mannered bullet points?
Or, is it full of clear, exhorting, expectant, results-oriented statements that are the cues to guide you through your planning session? Do you have a set of specific, guided conversations that will result in the creation of your best strategy ever? If you can’t see that page full of specific actions, then read on, courageous leader – it’s time to get to work today so you can be ready when that day in-the-near-future arrives!
Does Your Team “Own the Business?”
The topic of effective strategic planning is vast. Like many other leadership topics, volumes of books, whitepapers, blog posts and article column inches have been devoted to it. Rather than try to mash all of the relevant data into one single reading session, consider this article a thought-provoker to “change up” your experience, make strategy exciting, challenging and exhilarating!
One of the biggest traps leaders fall into is to simply repeat the so-called best practices of leaders or past year’s “conventional wisdom.” While the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach may work in some very isolated “cash cow” situations, your strategy session is not the time to back away from new bold ideas…you and your team need to own the business. I mean actually operate it like you own it. As if you and your team were on the line for any obligations. As if you were needing to answer at home for both the short-term results and the needed growth, scalability and profitability to participate in family education funding, retirement funding, healthcare costs, etc.
How Would You Compete?
How will you create a strategic, action-ready team… committed to own the business and live with the results? How will your team make a difference, transform the status quo, excite people about simultaneously “keeping the lights on,” “achieving excellence,” “winning in the market place,” and “having margins sufficient to fund innovation?”
Would your team be willing to dig in and explore – if they were your competitors – how they would make life miserable for your organization? Will you help them to see how to fight back? Will they understand the joy of helping others in your firm compete to win? Do you remember that joy yourself? Real leaders engage others to compete at work as they might away from work. Leaders help them experience the fun of trying, adjusting and succeeding at work, as they do away from work…to engage that sometimes-hidden competitive spirit at work!
Now, turn your attention to your customer… and your customers’ customers. It’s easy to get caught up in the details and minutia of your organization. It’s full of personalities, politics and process. Don’t forget that the only reason your organization exists is to serve your customer! (Yes, you have owners/shareholders, but without serving the customers, you are in a losing battle).
You can build the coolest product, deliver the best service, but if it doesn’t add value to your customer, why spend precious resources to bring it to market? That’s not to say you should leave innovation behind – in fact, your team’s job is to anticipate your customers’ needs and create market impact where one may not have existed. Do you see your team stretching, reaching towards the customer, further than they ever have when talking about strategy? If not, help them out – model the stretch, cite some examples. Help your leadership team see the potential for success and significance in the marketplace!
Here’s a way to check your work – halfway through your planning session, as the flipcharts fill up and people are feeling good about the progress and they break for lunch, do a quick review of the list – how many of the brainstorming results can point directly to a customer need? If it’s not a majority, then you might need to do a course correction. If it is, then congratulate the team! Every plan you make should somehow, even 4 clicks down, address the need of a customer, or their customers. If you can’t track it down, then put it in the “to be corrected list.” Yes, there are no bad ideas in brainstorming. There are, however, ideas that won’t establish you as making a difference in your markets. You’ll want to isolate those and see if you can develop them further!
Again, consider the competition. Even if you can’t see them, they are out there; watching you and learning from your trials, tribulations and successes. Rather than let the conversation descend into the usual complaining about why your team can’t compete – challenge the group to construct actual strategies to WIN. If your team has really digested the pre-work for the strategy session, talking about the competition should be a lively conversation. Discuss that STWOSM (strengths, threats, weaknesses and opportunities) in the new order that you put together – your time should be spent developing strategies to mitigate the threats AND maximize your opportunities. A balanced strategy will acknowledge the existence of both the positive and negative aspects of the competitive landscape.
Have the mindset of intentionally leading or following for competitive advantage. Have you heard the term “fast follower?” Companies that deploy this strategy wait for others to bleed a bit on the cutting edge, so that they don’t have to pay the price of development, implementation and recovery when things don’t go according to plan. It’s a good strategy if risk mitigation is a primary driver for your organization. We helped one of our clients, a major financial services organization, understand the competitive landscape and how being a fast follower in bringing product to market would work to their advantage. Remember – this is a combat chess game…with moves, counter moves and adjusted moves…hoping to catch market participants asleep, even for a short time! This well known, international financial services client used speed to market as a lower risk competitive advantage, embracing the “fast” part of fast follower. They were able to improve already respectable profits 150% during the strategic term…and contain risk in a very volatile market. That was no small feat!
The Multi-Dimensional Strategic Chess Board
Once you combine your view of the customer and your competition, you are starting to have a good view of your Market situation. You can think of your market situation as the Multi-Dimensional chessboard upon which your organization plays every day. Just as a chess player who has received a Master or Grandmaster title, your company must look at the whole board. Ask your team to consider their next three moves, rather than the simple next move. How will your competition react? What moves will they make next? How will your customers respond? Will the industry shift under your feet? How will you respond? Keep asking questions until you and your team are satisfied you’ve anticipated all scenarios – positive and negative – and have actually viewed the business situation as both current and potential competitors might.
Many leaders regret this lack of thorough analysis and lament halfway through the next year about the unintended and unanticipated consequences of their strategies. Like any natural ecosystem, the business world will have “equal and opposite reactions” when you introduce a new (or eliminate an existing) component to the system. Help your team think of these potentials. Employ the “Five Why’s” technique if you feel like they aren’t digging deep enough. Irritating? Absolutely! Necessary? Absolutely!
Winning Isn’t Just a Slogan. In Strategy, It’s Reality
Last, and most importantly, do the individuals on your team have the intention to win? I mean WIN in the market! Masters Alliance has engaged with over 2,200 executives, through one-on-one discussions, interviews and intense team efforts – about their hopes and desires for their organization. These clients were mostly at the top of their game, truly excellent. Even though we did not directly ask any questions about winning, we were shocked (and a bit dismayed) that only seven of the 2,200 voiced their intention to win. Less than 1%. Less than ½ of 1%! It’s not unreasonable for you to ask your team – do they have the intention to win? If they can’t look you straight in the eyes with a resounding YES, and put their $ on the line, then you have more work to do!
These four points – intense customer attention, live like the competition, understand and anticipate the moving market situation and have the intent to win – should be what is written on your notepad for the future vision of strategic success. If you have these things top of mind – you are going to fare better than most leaders in your situation. These kinds of concepts are what Masters Alliance can bring to your team – if you are ready for a different outcome, we are here to help you!
We Can Help
If you are interested in learning more about reaching your full potential, unlocking the strategic power that lies within your company, contact us. We can help you get started creating a “Strategic Combat” culture and help you eliminate those obstacles to success!
We can help bring these tips to life with your organization – we provide the tools and experience to help your team think and lead differently. We’ve helped dozens of our clients implement this new way of thinking in their organizations.
Masters Alliance is a 30-year strategic management consulting firm that has helped more than 120 client organizations in over 20 industries in 13 countries gain a competitive advantage in their market. We help organizations develop and implement unique business strategies that work – faster than our clients ever thought possible.
We help clients achieve significant performance gains from a breakthrough understanding of their customers, patients, clients and markets.