Let Battle Commence?

Some folks quote Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ as the template for business. It’s not the Beermat way (although it’s a good read!). Mike says smart businesses – especially smaller ones – are born to collaborate.

We’re forever being told that the world is becoming tougher, and that business is a struggle to the death that would have Darwin salivating at the mouth. Remember the Nike slogan: ‘Kill Adidas’?

This is not the Beermat Way.

We’re not trying to be goody-goody: we think that attitude is bad business. Obsession with competition leads to obsession with competitors. A business should be aware of its competitors, obsessed with its customers.

In a selling situation, for example, few things annoy customers more than people from one company slagging off another. Customers want to know what you can do for them; not how you feel about the guys down the road.

Sometimes competitors try and force themselves onto your agenda by making lots of noise. Don’t start shouting back; stay cool; concentrate on your business and your customers. Remember the kid on the playground who was all talk…

And sometimes things get rough – for example, a price war. Price is the crudest form of competition. Talk to your customers and find out what value you could add to your product – at or near its current price – to make it remain their choice. If your sales cornerstone is doing his or her job, your customers will want to stay with you, unless your rivals have a substantial and permanent cost advantage. (If they have such an advantage, get innovating, fast.)

What if a rival starts playing dirty tricks? Again, stay cool. By all means bring in the law if to do so is easy – obvious theft of IPR, for example. But the most important thing remains to talk to your customers. They probably don’t want to deal with a sleazeball – what have you got to do to make sure you keep their business?

When times in general get tough, it is not the nastiest that survive but the most flexible and the best co-operators. If you have established a reputation for ruthlessness and double-dealing, you will find it hard to find strategic partners. If you are respected and liked in your business community, it’s amazing how many resources you can muster to deal with big, external opposition.

None of the above means ‘be soft’. The best way to avoid price wars is to be perpetually vigilant about costs. The best way to avoid having your customers or staff seduced away is by having excellent customer and staff relations. The best way to make powerful, effective strategic alliances is to love what you do and seek out others who feel the same.

Books on strategy often use the metaphor of war. Interesting – but the truth of war is that both sides normally end up with their population decimated and their economy in tatters (unless the war is one-sided and thus over mercifully quickly). Meanwhile, wiser neutrals get on with their lives and prosper.


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