Commercial lessons from the Duke of Wellington.


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Improbable as it may seem, a commercial manager can learn useful lessons from the famous Duke of Wellington. Two hundred years ago, Britain sent a small army under the Duke of Wellington, to Spain, in order to assist the Spanish Government to drive out the enormous French army of Napoleon Bonaparte who had invaded and occupied the country. Between 1809 and 1814 Wellington with his small army defeated the much larger French forces, finally achieving his objective of driving all French forces from Spain in 1814.

How did he do it? The key lies in what he himself said of the French, “They planned their campaigns just as you might make a splendid set of harnesses. It looks very well; and answers very well; until it gets broken; and then you are done for. Now I made my campaigns of ropes. If anything went wrong, I tied a knot and went on”. In other words Wellington made plans that were flexible and could easily be changed.

The sole purpose of any business is to make money. To make money, a business needs to identify, anticipate and satisfy customer requirements profitably. The commercial manager’s responsibility is to produce the profitable income on which the business survives. A commercial plan, is therefore a necessary tool for the effective management of resources to achieve the objectives, and against which performance may be continually compared.

Can the commercial manager draw lessons from that of the experience of the Duke of Wellington two hundred years ago? Wellington had to contend with an enemy much superior in numbers, in an arid country with poor communications. He succeeded by having good intelligence of the French positions, and good logistics, so that he only chose to fight battles that he could win and made plans accordingly.

Being responsible for producing the necessary profitable income for their business, commercial managers will be assessed on how much income they produce and how efficiently they manage and use their resources in its production. But to be effective and to maximize the opportunities for income, commercial managers need to be aware of the threats and opportunities that continually arise from events and developments in the business environment. Changes in demand, resulting from fashion or technology are just two of the problems that confront the commercial manager. But there are also events which may not be obviously predictable, but which may give rise to new opportunities or alternatively, produce unexpected threats to the income supply or to business operations in general.

In business, change may be regarded as the only constant. Predictable change can be managed, but it is the unpredictable change that usually causes problems. For the commercial manager, trying to anticipate the future, will always be difficult.

Internal changes in a company’s performance and capability tend to be those over which the commercial manager may have some control or influence, but the same cannot be said for the majority of threats and opportunities which stem from external factors that directly affect the business environment. Companies may initiate what is called a PEST analysis, to assess the effects that Political, Economic, Social and Technological factors have on business operations. But to be comprehensive, any analysis of the business environment should also include assessments of competitor activity, new competitive products, as well as the business and financial strength of customers and the customer base as a whole

While business and general media may be a prime source of information that outlines potential threats and opportunities in the wider business environment, some emerging trends in selected internal performance measurements, may also give timely alerts to potential change and development in the organisation’s specific market. Such indicators are likely to be directly related to sales performance and analysis. Variances from projected levels of enquires in terms of number, type, market segment, location and product group may all indicate developments in the business environment providing both threats and opportunities. Similarly, other useful indicators may also be derived from changes in buying patterns from new and existing customers. Ideally, commercial managers should delegate specialists to monitor and analyse the potential threats and opportunities of the organisation’s business environment. However, they must be prepared to make decisions and to act on the advice of specialists and not ignore them.

Producing the business plan, outlining how investment and resources are to be used profitably, is the commercial manager responsibility. As part of the planning process it is prudent to prepare separate contingency plans to cope with various possible eventualities. This is especially important for large organisations, as their size and organization tends to preclude a rapid response to changing conditions. Whereas, smaller companies tend to have greater flexibility, enabling a faster reaction to changed conditions and opportunities.

What actions should the commercial manager undertake to prepare for the ”unforeseen” event?

* Continually analyse the business environment for threats and opportunities.
* View the trends, identifying potential indicators of change.
* Consider the possibilities
* Outline the best and worst scenarios
* Assess the probabilities of particular scenarios
* Prepare contingency plans to meet the scenarios with higher probabilities
* Maintain the necessary resources to meet contingency plans
* Identify the indicators that would initiate particular scenarios.
* Decide which indicators might call for immediate action
* Be prepared to act quickly

In a rapidly changing world, the successful commercial manager must be vigilant in identifying, observing and understanding those indicators that give rise to both opportunities and threats and agile in reacting accordingly.

© N.C.Watkis, Contract Marketing Service 12 Jul 2018

Nicholas Watkis, AE MA DipM CMC FCIM
Nicholas Watkis set up Contract Marketing Service in 1981, providing professional interim marketing management for a wide variety of businesses. Over 30 years practical experience in organizations, large and small, national and international, led to the development of Business Performance Maximized specialist in marketing performance measurement.


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