Sporting a black eye in elementary school or junior high was often seen as a badge of courage. Later, a black eye was the sign of losing; something that no one wants to experience regularly. Unfortunately, many companies regularly receive black eyes in the form of lost sales to competitors. Like real black eyes, competitive loss black eyes heal themselves over time. Just like in the school yard fight, they create an immediate buzz along with rationalizations. In the business world, these discussions are often referred to as loss reports. In most instances, the “blame” seems to be caused by something that was out of the control of the sales rep, marketing, or other elements within the company. After the appropriate gnashing of teeth, the reports are filed; never to be seen again. When a new black eye is received, it is often treated as a singular event and not at all related to past, and probably forgotten, losses.
Obviously, the best approach is to always win and avoid receiving a black eye in the first place. However, even world champions rarely exit the arena unscathed. Cuts, bruises, and black eyes can still occur when victorious. Clearly, the goal for winners as well as losers is to learn from past mistakes in order to avoid making them in the future. Rather than only learning from each past mistake, a more effective approach is to simultaneously remember each individual past mistake and look for common threads. In each instance, some of the issues uncovered may seem to be small and even inconsequential. However, when examined in aggregate, they may fit a larger, systemic pattern that can and should be addressed.
An example of this situation is “always” being surprised by the release of an RFP which contains unfavorable requirements. On a case-by-case basis, the response may involve modifying your product or service to meet the stated requirements. A better approach in the future is to develop competitive strategies that are based on getting involved with the prospect long before the RFPs are issued and influence their content. As another example, consistent losing because of price is probably a clear indicator that sufficient effort was not expended in convincing the prospect of your advantages and showing that price should only one, minor consideration.
As a final example, a large, well-established company that enjoyed a dominant market share in a particular market always found itself well behind their sales forecasts until the last two weeks of every quarter. As the quarterly sales panic kicked in, they would offer incredible discounts and their customers would buy. It didn’t take long for them to “train” the market place resulting in over 50% of their quarterly revenues occurring in the last two weeks of every quarter.
The last, but most effective method, of avoiding a black eye is to avoid the fight in the first place. Instead of spending time in the fight, spend time in finding areas where there is no competition. Find market segments, niches where your offering has distinct advantages or areas that are not attractive to your competitors. This approach may appear to be naïve but larger, more entrenched competitors may prefer to only fight in their home court or in areas that large enough potential rewards that can justify their involvement. Remember, there is a reason for the pre-season and regular season games before the championship. Stay in your league and weight class and hone your skills before participating in the main event.