Winning strategy

 Steven Myers knows a lot about winning. As chairman and CEO of SM&A, a management consulting firm that helps other companies win contracts and proposals, he’s worked on more than 1,000 competitive procurements worth more than $340 billion.

Myers has developed effective strategies and gained insights for all aspects of business, from building client relationships to building a strong reputation.

“You could have the best strategy in the world, but if you can’t execute on the strategy … you’re just going to lose any competitive advantage that you have,” says Myers, who grew the company’s revenue from $69 million in 2004 to almost $77 million in 2005. “Conversely, the most brilliant process in the world can’t save you if, in fact, you have the wrong answer.”

Smart Business spoke with Myers about building relationships and the importance of integrity.

How do you build a strong reputation?
It’s integrity, first and foremost. And integrity comes in a lot of forms. Integrity starts with you maintaining faith with what your vision really is, because the people that you’re going to attract, the first thing they’re going to want to know about your company is, ‘Well, tell us all about what your vision is because we have to buy into that.’

If the employees aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid, they’re not going to have the commitment and passion that’s needed to contribute to the long-term success of the company.

And then, you have to have integrity in dealing with your customers. Everyone has integrity until it’s tested. And the real test of your integrity is how you deal with situations that aren’t going too well.

How do you build integrity with your employees?
It goes beyond whether or not they’re being paid appropriately, because people will vote with their feet. They’re not going to stay in a situation where they feel that they’re undervalued, that they feel that they’re not being properly utilized, that they don’t feel like they have their place in the sun.

So integrity is all about how it is that you deal with each and every individual in your company, from the young woman at the receptionist’s desk … all the way up to your senior executive management team.

How do you approach client relationships?
If you’re not creating a win-win situation for your company and your client’s company, then you’re not building a relationship, you’re merely conducting a transaction. And if all you’re doing is conducting transactions, well, you can’t build a reputation because people aren’t going to want you back.

Success in business in the long run comes from your ability to develop long-term, repeat relationships with people. You can win the battle and lose the war by going out and having a highly successful transaction from your perspective, but one that leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the client. Now you’ve had one transaction and you’ve lost 10.

You have to be kind of a paradoxical combination of persistent and tenacious while you’re being flexible and adaptable. It’s a fine balance.

If you’re too patient, you’re not pushing the organization. And if you’re not patient enough, you’re just stripping your own organization’s gears.

How else can companies win business?
Competing for business is a lot like playing sports. The teams that succeed, they have their act together psychologically. They have the proper motivations, they have their heads screwed on right.

Secondly, if you win without a strategy, it’s really luck. Before you start doing a lot of work and investing a lot of time and money in any competitive situation, you’ve got to start with the question, ‘What do we have to do to win? What is it actually going to take?’

Third, one needs a process for competing. The way we like to describe it is this: In order to win, you have to do the right things. That’s strategy. But we also have to do things right. And that’s process.

Fourth, it’s all about proficiency. What do we learn again from sports? That the best amateurs in the world can’t compete against professionals. You have to have a lot of experience that only comes from having done it.

How do you define success?
Success is so much in the eye of the beholder. For each of us, you have to decide what it is that’s important to you, what you value, and use that as your success yardstick — not what others think.

If you think you’re going to be successful because your business is bigger, well, there’s always going to be a bigger business. Or by how much money you make – there’s always going to be people that make more money than you do.

Life is a mystery to be lived, it’s not a problem to be solved. My sense of personal success comes from living the mystery well (and) enjoying the process.