Posts Tagged ‘competition’

Think Inside Someone Else’s Box

Think inside the box first

Think inside the box first


How many times have you been asked to think “outside the box” at work or on a training course?  Countless times, no doubt. It is a cliché now although it remains a good practice for problem solving. But when you are finding new clients the one thing you need to do is to find out about your prospects or customers and their challenges or opportunities. You have to get to know them, to ‘think inside their box’, so that you get to know what it feels like from their position. 

An example of this from my military experience was learning about an Army officer serving in Northern Ireland who had become the most successful platoon commander to that point in finding caches of terrorist weapons. He and his platoon became experts in finding where the IRA hid their weapons. The officer thought like the enemy and began to understand their methods and soon cracked their modus operandi and forced them to rethink how they hid their weapons.

And today, in a regular business breakfast networking I attend, I heard one business who was thinking inside their customer’s boxes. His business supplied telecom services to small businesses which is a fiercely competitive market. Many of his competitors had far greater resources to market themselves, with slick sales teams and slick marketing. But his competitors failed to live up to their promises of what they would provide and constantly called their customers and prospects to sell them more products even though they had failed them. 

He understood this and some of his competitor’s customers were at the networking meeting and told us how they had been treated. His business revolved around being straight and honest with his customers. He simplified and lowered their telecoms bills and regularly checked whether their solution was working. He found new customers by networking, relating to his customers and by doing what he said he would do. 

And this is where larger business are going to face major problems from now on. Because marketing is no longer about slick brochures and coiffured salesmen. It’s about being useful to your customers and prospects and providing them with an experience that will make them believe you and come back for more. Giving away some of your expertise for free through your blog, web site, through Twitter or at a networking event are just a few simple ways to win against fierce competitors with deeper pockets but less ability to understand the customers. 

So, before you start thinking outside the box, do some thinking inside the box. It will give you a competitive edge without costing you an arm and a leg.


You Can Learn a Lot from Terrorists

Setting patterns is dangerous

Setting patterns is dangerous

Within twelve hours of being on Londonderry, I was in one of the British Military bases in the city with my platoon. It was early 1991 and I had flown out to take over from a fellow officer who was needed for preparations the Army was making to commence the first Gulf War. I had been through training for an earlier tour to South Armagh but this tour was on the streets and not in the fields.

We sprinted through the gates of the base onto the streets and within a minute a bomb went off some 500 metres away. Our drills kicked in and we made our way towards the area to cordon it off. It turned out that it was a small bomb but we still had to do the drills and provide a safety zone to keep people out so the bomb disposal team could come in and make the location safe and clear any other potential bombs.

The next stage is the part of the ninety-nine percent of boredom that all troops experienced in Northern Ireland when you are out on the streets for twelve hours or more while the bomb disposal team do their jobs. Trying to keep alert is tough, so you move your teams around in the area to keep them sharp. You make sure that they are supplied with hot food and tea to keep them happy. And all the time you are there, you are not somewhere else. And that’s what the terrorists know.

The next thing we saw, some eight hours after the bomb, were the phosphorescent tracers of rounds streaming through the air towards one of the watchtowers in another base in the city. The IRA were using an M60 machine gun and they had been very clever. They sucked us into setting up a cordon around the bomb while they set up their real target.

And that’s why they say respect your enemy because they are not stupid. This is why you are trained not to set patterns in the Army so that you minimise the chance of walking into their traps. And this is a lesson for anyone in business too.

Last week I was with two people who run their own business making weights for balloons. Their manufacturing business is an industry where there is little marketing carried out by their competitors. Most web sites are dull and most of their business is carried out through orders sent by fax and there are no distinct brands. 

But the business owners I met want to grow their business and they wanted to start doing it by developing their brand and using the Internet to reach new customers and sell more to their existing customers. Their competitors are setting patterns and doing business in the way that they have always done business. My clients have recognised that they need to use their competitors complacency to their advantage and out-market them. 

So, respect your enemy or your competitors. Get to know the patterns they are setting and disrupt them. And be prepared to set off on a path of continuous change and innovation to stay ahead and keep them on their toes.