Are You Captain Ahab?


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We all remember Captain Ahab – famous for his, um, obsession with Moby Dick. Then there was Don Quixote who just loved to joust at windmills. We see that same theme throughout our history – ordinary men and women taking on giants to show their power and save the day. We laud those who take on the Evil Empire or Big Competitor and Win Big!

We’re all programmed to look for the opportunity to Go Big in business as well.

  • We look for the Big Deal that will catapult us to market leadership.
  • We strive to drive a Paradigm Shift that will change the way users behave in our specific market – forever.
  • We focus on fueling that Big Bang market launch that will take us viral overnight.

But who said chasing that Big whale of an opportunity is the best strategy for success? In reality – going Big can be dangerous in today’s market. Why?

Because Big is Hard. Especially for smaller companies who compete with big competitors within entrenched markets.

Why on earth would anyone directly attack a huge in-place competitor, much less try to shift an established market in one big swoop?

Me thinks that’s ego in action, well, status quo thinking and ego. It’s certainly not an approach based on successful strategy think. Yes – there are examples of little David type companies defeating the Big Goliaths – but those are the exception, not the rule folks.

Here’s an example.

Imagine a small technology company (SFC) whose offering represents the next paradigm shift in their market. This firm has been developing the software for 5 years. It solves a huge problem for users – one that no one else is solving. Sounds great right? Maybe, maybe not.

You see, this vendor’s industry is in very complex technology. Today’s paradigm is deeply ingrained in the perceptions of the technologists and users. There is a way it’s done, everybody does it the same way and there are extensive deployments of expensive solutions already in place that do the job – as far as they go. SFC’s solutions solve one of the biggest holes in ALL of these solutions.

The problem is – noone believes this problem can be solved. Certainly not by some snot-nosed startup.

In this scenario, we’re focused on a target buying audience with deep Gravity Think. The do not think things CAN change. They are stuck in the way they do it – and changing that is going to be expensive and difficult – if it’s doable at all.

The best strategy for SFC is anything BUT going head-to-head into this market given the Gravity perceptions that are in place. Yet that’s exactly what the company is doing. Why? Because it’s a huge market, they have the next generation technology and they are bound and determined to shift that paradigm. Because that’s the way great companies are born. Because that’s what they know, and they are going to prove it to the world.

It’s not going to work. Why? Lotsa reasons:

  • The Gravity think about how offerings in this market should work. Everyone agrees to the best approaches – based on today’s paradigm. No one believes there’s an opportunity for shift.
  • The in-place investment in current solutions is huge. As are the investments in training and management. Shifting to a new paradigm is not exactly a happy thought for buyers – even if it is better.
  • That great big market is a great big dinosaur. Even though everyone knows there’s an issue that needs fixin’ – no one can get their head around SFC’s paradigm shift. It’s different, it flies in the face of everything they believe. That equates to lots of time and money folks.

Here’s my question for all.

Who says that the big deals are the ones driving market evolution?

Those big deals are usually with customers who buy at the height of the market maturity curve. They aren’t driving next generation opportunities – they are consuming proven solutions. Read that again.

When we target innovation and paradigm shifts at the Big Deals – we’re often targeting buyers who aren’t that susceptible to new ideas. They’re big, they’re busy and they don’t shift easily.

So why target them for new products and opportunities? Who in the heck ever told us to do that? Must’ve been in B School – because it certainly isn’t a real world business practice for success.

Forget Big and go for the sneak attack!

Instead of hitting our heads against the wall trying to get those big established markets to pay attention to our cool stuff – here are some better options:

Find an emerging market for the same innovation – something new and an evolution, involving a complementary yet different opportunity for your offering. Find the innovators who are new and evolving in the market – and focus on them. Creating success in that new market that’s already shifting paradigms will help Pull your paradigm shift into the market. For example – if you’re focused on enterprise data centers for some paradigm shift – try focusing on CLOUD instead….shift the paradigm and solve the problem in the NEW world. That will pull you offering back into the OLD users when you’re successful – for a lot less effort and cost.

Promote an ability and benefit that adds significant and new value within that big bad established market. In other words – instead of going head to head – try sneaking into the mix with a high value option that doesn’t threaten the buyers’ status quo. Find a way to add value to the current deployed solutions instead of arguing for an either or replacement (aka paradigm shift). Once they see the value off the adder and start to use your offering – they’ll see the value of your new paradigm and shift of their own accord – without you having to do anything.

Give it away. Heresy you say. Not really. The fastest way to get attention in an established market is to give away a new capability. That doesn’t mean giving away your entire offering. It does mean finding a way to give away a piece of it that is high value – a piece that will get buyers using the offering. Then – you can charge for the additional value. It’s a simple way to package – yet we all tend to get greedy and want to charge from the get go – especially in a startup world. Giving away some Value can be the fastest way to get market traction. Think about it.

Here’s the bottom line.

Instead of taking on that whale of a market or opportunity head on – try finding new opportunities for small successes – successes that will build into big profits and market leadership.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Rebel Brown
Rebel Brown consistently challenges the status quo to deliver optimum solutions and high velocity growth for her clients. She combines the strategic expertise and tactical savvy of a global Corporate Strategy, Launch and Turnaround Expert, along with the leadership and motivational skills needed to get the job done.


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