Staying Ahead of Your Enemy (Part 1)

StayingAheadoftheEnemy157989255BlogInnovation and efficiency are easily derailed when you’re not aware of the battlefield.

Who’s the Enemy?

The age of agility forces us to track a lot of variables. Resilient types look ahead to innovate and diversify. They’re very aware of their “ecosystem” and regularly monitor a broad range of issues including:

  • For individuals — Are my skill sets and knowledge likely to lead to long-term employment?
  • For organizations — Are we focused on the long-term for market retention and growth, the short-term to pay the bills and do we have the right people to accomplish that work?

It’s clear that the needs of the individual and the organization are interrelated and each needs to track a key concept:

“Who is my current and future enemy?”

Is this something that you and your organization talk about and is the thinking strategic? Have you considering global market changes, technology and workforce disrupters?

Or is your response automatic reflex or feeling driven?

Agility requires extreme situational awareness and not knowing the enemy can lead to some serious hurt.

Let’s explore the hypothesis that many “traditional enemies” are exactly what they say they are; traditional … tribal, gut feelings based on the best practices of our father’s fathers. Traditional enemies are often:

  1. Based in the past — the way things used to be
  2. Individual thinking — not based on strategic business analysis frameworks and facts
  3. Excuses — avoiding the necessary evaluation and investment required by data-driven metrics

And many of these enemies waste time, focus, energy, and miss the real enemy living in your back yard.

One of the reasons that the enemy is often misidentified is the grounding of marketing terminology in military strategy. Much of our sales, financial and design strategy is simply an extension of historical military best practices. Sometimes smart professors even used the similarities to capture the attention of new marketing recruits.

Strategic planning came into my life when Elon professor Allen Sanders used Sun Tzu’s classic “The Art of War” to illustrate core business fundamentals. Watch for the italics …

Military supply planning morphed into product requirements and availability. By working closely with development, we prioritize opportunities that are likely to increase strategic potential:

  • We close potential gaps in the lines (holes in our offerings), and are careful to not outrun the supply lines (move far ahead of sales teams) with offers that aren’t optimized to take the high ground (not ready for prime time).
  • Launching products and planting the flag to dominate a new space


Sales training was similar:

  • Concentrate your forces on well-defined targets.
  • And I will never forget a senior executive who took that one to the next level, asking me to rethink a tactical campaign because I wanted to directly assault a competitor without the luxury of overwhelming forces (more than three times the competitor’s funding).


Competition, now there’s a traditional enemy, rarely absent from a sales kickoff meeting. We’ve all heard the zero-sum phrases, “winner’s win,” “we’re number one” and “the rest are losers.”

Don’t get me wrong, leadership calls for focus. There’s nothing wrong with regularly reminding the sales force that complacency isn’t an option and we reinforce key differentiators against specific competitors.

And it’s clear that you must track key and emerging competitors. In some industries, the customer base or supply chain is so saturated that a competitor can destroy margins with a few strategic deals.

However, that’s what competitive analysis is all about. The majority of competitive issues should be known quantities with a little wiggle room left for surprises. That’s the reason you’re doing four-corners and five-force analysis. Right?

In many markets, casting the competitor as “Darth Vader” is rather old school. One of the reasons is the expansion of offerings due to expanding channels. If you’re in an agile organization, your online sphere of influence is likely to expand far beyond your core competencies and it might be in your best interest to rent your lists or resell competitive products with a coopetition model.

With coopetition, you may compete in one market and partner in others. The boundaries are often extremely cloudy, because it can be very difficult to imagine every cross-pollination opportunity. Again, good competitive analysis is crucial to weigh the risks and benefits. But when you aren’t certain (and how often are we certain these days?), it can be really detrimental to demonize the competition that might be propping up the supply chain at the other end of your building.

This is far more important than “putting on the marketing white hat” or “taking the high road” — it can also have a tremendous impact on future partnerships. In one of my previous lives, we had an informal coopetition agreement with an organization that generated enormous amounts of cross-sales. The competitor was really big, and every time we “picked up their crumbs” we ended up with a major sale.

However, a traditional-focused executive wasn’t interested in admitting that our brand was the smaller of the two and applied maximum “trash talk” whenever possible. That language made it full circle — our coopetition became aware of the disconnect and our offerings were soon replaced by a third party in a formal agreement.

So if the competition isn’t the primary enemy, who is? Followers of Global Knowledge Business Learning Services are likely to know the short-list.

Next time, we’ll clear a few more off of the “not as evil as we might think” list … and we’ll also get to the root and address the real enemy — the enemies that are truly dangerous.

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