The risks and benefits of poking the bear

Is it better to ignite your team and risk leaking to your competitors that you’re coming for them? Or moving forward in stealth mode? The answer depends on your purpose, your odds of prevailing and how quickly you must move the needle in your favor.

Going toe to toe with competitors can be a matter of survival or an aggressive method to take market share from them.

It’s widespread practice in sports, and often in politics, to lay down the gauntlet to fire up the team and give everyone a common enemy and purpose. Doing this can be a strategic move in business to galvanize management and rank-and-file workers alike, energize a complacent team, and end inertia. It sends a message that it’s no longer business as usual and that everyone either has to move forward or get out of the way. A lack of imagination and an absence of burning in the belly jeopardize an organization’s ability to innovate and grow, and are symptomatic of mediocrity or worse.

Carefully measured doses of “trash talk” from the top can fire up a new company mindset, raising the bar for innovation and expected performance. However, a critical caveat is that words alone won’t move the needle. You must have the right ammunition to grow and take market share from competitors, not just set lofty goals and objectives. This means fair fights are a bad strategy, and 50-50 odds of success are a sucker’s bet.

Accordingly, you must be prepared and have a plan, methods and tools so your new aggressive company persona won’t backfire and cause more damage than good.

Before poking a competitor, learn from the Japanese admiral who said after the attack on Pearl Harbor, “We have awakened a sleeping giant.” If possible, it’s always better to keep the competition off guard, causing the opposition to scramble to respond without the benefit of any early warning of your intentions.

The strategy for metaphorically going to war with competitors is first to identify every one of their strengths and weaknesses. Secondly, create methods to overcome what they do best by improving your products or services, your systems, and marketing messaging promising their customers something new they cannot get elsewhere. None of this will just happen. It takes a commitment of resources, time, talent and money.

This is not a one-and-done undertaking. Ongoing communications with the team are mandatory, including promoting what actions the company has initiated to gain momentum. Also, your team must know how you’ll measure success, to be aware if you’re winning or losing.

Another essential ingredient for success is getting your vendors and suppliers on your side, many of whom are likely to sell to your competitors. Everyone wants to be associated with a company fighting to win, and it’s essential to communicate with them why the odds are in your favor.

Don’t ever confuse chutzpah and bravado with implementing a tested plan and providing the resources to carry it out.

Remember, even bears you have wounded can still run fast, so never quit looking over your shoulder. ●

Visit Michael Feuer’s website to learn more about his columns, watch videos and purchase his books, “The Benevolent Dictator” and “Tips From The Top.”

Michael Feuer

Founder and CEO