Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Bears and Packers, How to Beat Your Company's Rival

It’s football season again and that means that most of America is giddy with excitement and hope for the new season. And while the NFL has creeped beyond being a Sunday afternoon affair with prime time games several nights a week, there’s nothing quite as exciting as a rivalry game, and perhaps none better than the game the kicks off this week’s slate Thursday night, the Chicago Bears at the Green Bay Packers.

Bears/Packers is the oldest rivalry in the NFL and its games have featured legendary icons like Halas, Lombardi, Butkus, Favre, and Payton, to name a few. What makes it even more interesting is to hear players and coaches talk about a game, because that’s not really something we get to do in business. In an article posted recently, the article talks about the familiarity these teams have with each other and how that affects their game plan. In essence, they know each other so well that they’re not going to make any drastic changes to their strategy – they’re going to make minor tweaks and stick to what they know best.
Now think about that in regards to your top competitor. Chances are, you know they are going to be in involved in a lot of your deals. How well do you know what they’re going to do and what they’re going to say? Odds are, you know their pitch pretty well, even though you’ve likely never seen it. Yet, knowing that, how often do you find yourself trying to outsmart them with something new or catchy?

The thing is, we try to outthink ourselves too often in business and vary our plan of attack instead of staying with our strengths (which by proxy, allows your competitor to stay with their strength). In the end, I think this backfires far more often than it succeeds.
Think about a pitch where you totally changed your strategy based on what you thought a competitor might be coming in with? Did you roll out a new deck? Custom build all sorts of proof of concept code? Bring in high level execs?

Did it work? I’m guessing it didn’t, and it likely made you look like some combination of nervous/desperate/unorganized because the team probably hadn’t pitched in that configuration before. Clients pick up on that.
Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t personalize your experience for every client – you absolutely should! But the elements that you personalize should be similar so that the overall experience is 85% the same, 15% personalized, for each engagement. You’ll be more confident in delivering the message and the client will be more responsive to it because of that.

A rivalry means that both teams are winning a lot, otherwise, if it’s lopsided, it’s not really a rivalry (think Indiana basketball vs. Northwestern basketball). If your competitor is constantly beating you, maybe you need to change your strategy. But, it should be a fundamental change in strategy, not something crazy you thought of after two 5-Hour energy drinks and a Red Bull.
Be consistent in your message. Learn it well and deliver it often. Don’t try to be too cute. These concepts will help ensure that you gain (or maintain) the upper hand over your rival.

And in case you’re wondering, I’m predicting a 24-14 Bears victory Thursday night. Bear down!

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  1. So THAT's why you won't bring me to meetings with you :) Your main message is spot on - confidence breeds success. There's nothing more powerful than a well coordinated sales team. But I think there are times when you have to deviate from the standard plays - I've seen the lots of situations where a well-executed custom demo or executive visit has turned a deal around. I think the ultimate answer is that you have to understand the opportunity well enough to know when going outside of the box is going to work.

  2. Hey, I'll take the big dog out anytime.. I think the point was more to not outthink things... It's like the MLB manager that redoes his lineup for the playoffs based on a matchup, even though it means putting inferior players on the field.. Totally agree that in the right situation, a custom demo or executive visit can be a huge asset.