How to Win Clients When You’re the Underdog
A management professor once told me that in business, the only thing you need to know is one special shape. This meant absolutely nothing to me until he began to show me how every fundamental business practice boils down to a basic geometric shape.
Here I am paying $50k a year and we’re going to learn about one shape – a classic equilateral triangle. You know, that guy with 3 sides, 60 degrees each angle, and 180 degrees to go around. Yup, the simple, classy, equilateral triangle. 3 sides, no frills, all business. A Harvard MBA teaching other MBA’s about triangles?
I’m skeptical to say the least.
A $50,000 Triangle
As it turns out, the professor is spot on. Without getting technical, the geometry of thinking takes complex ideas and generates them into solid variables. Statistically, take on any more than three variables, and you’ve got a huge pile of worthless information with far too many options. Take on any less than three variables, and you’ve just induced tunnel vision. Three is the magic number because it’s just enough form with just enough chaos to actually yield real information. Basically you take a big idea, smash it into three variables, and voila – you can now use your triangle for a myriad of things.
At this point, it’s alright to be puzzled, luckily this concept is about as simple as the shape itself. Here’s what I call “Triangle One” and how we use it to determine our strategy for beating out competition when pitching to clients.
First Corner – Economic Quality
The first corner of “Triangle One” is your firm’s economic quality: In terms of cost, how expensive is your firm compared to the next guy? Does your cost reflect your quality? On an apples to apples comparison, how does your firm stack up?
Use this corner of the triangle when you’re up against a firm who’s only difference is their sheer size. They’re better because they’re bigger… or are they? Let clients know you’re scalable, flexible, and you don’t have to pay a 40-person staff their comfortable salaries.
Second Corner – Interaction Quality
The second corner of “Triangle One” is your firm’s interaction quality: Are you more personal with clients than your competitor? What’s the demeanor of your interactions? What sort of relationship do you build?
Use this corner of the triangle when you’re up against a firm who takes projects and disappears. Let the client know you’re a phone call away from their idea, rather than a few unanswered phone calls, unread e-mails, and a few unheard voicemails away. Trust us, it makes the difference. Make yourself available, but don’t give up control.
Third Corner – Differentiation
The third corner of “Triangle One” is your firm’s differentiation: Simply, why are you unique? Why chose your firm over another? What makes your firm stand out like a sore thumb (assuming a sore thumb is something awesome)?
Use this corner of the triangle when you’re up against a firm who you can’t quite beat on economics. Let’s be honest, you have to justify your costs sometimes too, make frequent use of this corner. Why your different is why you’re in business and the “firm” down the street isn’t. Show your uniqueness and show it well. Everyone’s watching.
Go Ahead, Pick Your Corner
Inside “Triangle One” lives your firm and the location of your firm is pulled and pushed by each of the three dimensions. The more you show towards one quality, the closer you are to its corner. It’s up to employee, client, and even personal evaluations to place your firm inside the triangle.
Most major firms tend to pull away from interaction and settle somewhere between economy and differentiation. The more centralized the location, the better.
Smaller firms tend to sit right in the middle; however, smaller firms have the advantage because they have the flexibility to stretch their home as close to the corners as they want to. However, never spread yourself too thin, but that’s another triangle for another time.
Next time your smaller firm is pitted up toe to toe against a bigger, “better” competitor, try to explore ways to exploit their “Triangle One” and capitalize on your “Triangle One”. Beat any big firm in at least 2 of the 3 corners and you’ll get more shots than MTV’s Jersey Shore (If that pop culture reference went over your head, consider yourself lucky). Show that you in fact can compete… and do a damn good job doing it.
(c) 2010 Robert W. Keidel. The Geometry of Strategy: Concepts for Strategic Management. Routledge.