If there is one thing that I have learned throughout my sales leadership career that has helped my teams maintain perspective and performance, it is to never underestimate the competition. It is so vital to maintain a level of respect for the people and the organisations you compete against, because it keeps you sharp and alert, and able to manoeuvre quickly when required. Unfortunately though, I have observed many leaders and organisations, who have in fact completely underestimated their competition and, as a consequence, paid a heavy price.
Now, as a passionate Melbourne Football Club (AFL) supporter, I saw this play out over the weekend, where Melbourne appeared to underestimate their opponent, Essendon, and as a result, were well beaten. All the ‘experts’ predicted that Melbourne should have won and won easily. However, with hindsight, it appears that the club actually underestimated their opponent, took them too lightly, and subsequently paid the price – and it got me thinking about the parallels between sport and business.
Possibly one of the most famous sporting examples of this is the story of the USA mens Ice Hockey team when they defeated the Soviet Union during the 1980 Winter Olympics. Leading into the games, the Soviet Union had won the gold medal at every Winter Olympics tournament since 1960 and had a team comprised of high quality players, who were employed by organisations in the Soviet Union specifically to play Ice Hockey. By contrast, the USA team was comprised of a collection of amateur college students and were ranked number 7 for the tournament. Interestingly, 3 days before the Olympics began, USA and the Soviet Union played an exhibition game, where the Soviet Union won easily, 10 goals to 3. It appeared that the Soviet Union was again destined to continue their unbeaten run.
However, the USA had other ideas. History shows that in the final round of the tournament, the USA defeated the Soviet Union 4 goals to 3, in a game that has become known as ‘the Miracle on Ice’, and then went on to defeat Finland to earn the Olympic Gold Medal. No one expected them to win, especially the Soviet Union, but the USA were a very tight knit team that had been training together for over 12 months and had developed a terrific team bond. And the 1980 Winter Games were also held in the USA, perhaps giving the USA a home advantage. The Soviet Union certainly underestimated their competition.
This is a very valuable lesson in why it is critical to never underestimate your competition and this especially applies to sales leadership. Here’s why :
- Underestimating your competition can lead to complacency and complacency can lead to a drop in performance. It is so important to treat every game and every sales opportunity as a ‘Final’ or ‘Gold Medal match’, where you must bring your ‘A’ game. Focusing on bringing your best game to the table will remove complacency and enable you to execute with professionalism and high standards.
- Underestimating your competition shows a lack of respect and this can come back and bite you. When you respect your competition, it can allow you the opportunity to create unique value for your customer, rather than focussing on how to ‘beat’ your competitors. This will be your differentiation.
- When you respect your competition, often they will respect you and your reputation in the marketplace can also be enhanced. And with a healthy respect, you will no longer be purely reacting to what is taking place around you, you will find yourself in a position where you are able to exert more power and influence over how you respond. You may also find that through this respect, you are able to lift the reputation of the entire industry.
- Underestimating your competition can also lead to your perspective being affected, to the point where there are always winners and losers. Now, the reality is that in business, some organisations lose business, and some win business, but this can often be short sighted. What if instead of looking at an immediate or short term opportunity or sale, we looked at the lifetime value of a customer and recognised that in the lifetime relationship, there may be some peaks and troughs, but over time, the reciprocal value potential is huge. Would this change the perspective you have? I’m certain it would. And what if we took on the belief that there wasn’t actually competition, that instead, there was coopetition and that the pie was not only big enough for all of us to share, but that the pie continued to grow in size?
- Underestimating your competition can also lead you to having a biased view on your own capabilities and can lead you to ignoring blind spots. It is critical in sales leadership to constantly be seeking feedback from others on your capabilities, as well as conducting self assessments – conducting a detailed SWOT analysis, being objective in the assessment and then continuing to develop strategies to enhance your strengths and opportunities, as well as strategies to cover or handle your weaknesses and threats. This will keep you on edge and will definitely keep any ‘ego’ in check.
- Possibly the biggest principle in never underestimating your competition is to remain humble and maintain the focus on how you are able to provide and deliver value to your customers. As Zig Ziglar famously said ‘You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want’. This is especially true in sales, and as a sales leader, if you focus first and foremost on how you can help others, magical things will happen.
The above principles, along with incredible mentors and supporters, allowed me to develop a way of thinking to never underestimate competition. Does that mean that I ‘win’ every time? Absolutely not. However, what it does do is allow me to maintain perspective, and when I focus on the value that I can provide, as compared to purely focusing on selling a product or a service, I find that in the long run, the customer receives great value, and I get taken care of – just like Zig said.
I trust this helps you along on your sales leadership journey.
To your continued success.
If you want to know how you can better persuade and influence your team, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Darren is a Sales Leadership and Sales Performance Coach, Facilitator & Speaker. He is an experienced and committed coach with a background of sales leadership success in large organisations. He applies a genuine focus to coaching and developing high performing sales leaders who are looking to unleash the potential of themselves and their teams.