Guest blog with encouraging advice for startups battling an industry incumbent.
– Coach Wolfgang
Startups and small companies often talk about competing against the “big fish” in their industry – otherwise knows as the “800 lb gorilla.” Well, I work for one of those 800 lb. gorillas, and I see everyday how we can (and do) get beaten in the market.
Execute on communications
The 800 lb. gorilla may have millions of email addresses, but it’s not a very engaged list. We may be sending confusing emails to the same folks from each of our divisions. We are sensitive to over emailing and are always concerned about legal exposure. Otherwise, we lack a good overall emailing plan for our organization.
This is your chance to develop a database of engaged subscribers. Don’t worry about size, worry about quality and creating a good experience for different types of subscribers.
Stay on the leading edge
We spend lots of money on research and custom industry reports. We talked to customers and put wonderful research packages together for our executives. But we’re slow to change directions because we need so much buy-in. We have smart people in leadership positions, but it’s not that easy to pivot our messaging, org structure, or sales direction.
You can talk to your clients and consolidate that research much faster – you can pivot to where things are going long before we can! You can conduct market test – a la The Lean Startup – much faster. So, do so!
Keep your message consistent
We also feel like every year we need to change up our annual plans, often, dropping our old messaging for no real reason. Being a big fish means we have the money to do so, but it causes confusion in the industry, within our organization, and to all of our prospective clients.
You should show the discipline of sticking to a consistent message and let time be your friend. When our industry becomes mature, then we’ll adopt a single, consistent message and it will be harder to stand out. Read David Aaker to understand the benefits of having a consistent message over time.
Our sales team is often times buried with new rules, new plans, and new directions. Our goals are quarterly, if not monthly, so we are always scrambling to close the imminent prospects and less worried about longer-term opportunities. We aren’t pushing too far outside of our comfort zone. We quickly blow off new leads that will take a bit of extra work.
This is your chance to build an org that doesn’t let these opportunities go and thinks about the long-term game, not just what you need this quarter!
Focus on a niche
Large companies have a healthy portfolio of products and services – many more than you. Our problem is we have a hard time presenting them as a set of organized solutions for a particular buyer. Our advertising is all over the place, but it’s quite broad and even vague. It’s also confusing about how our overlapping products/solutions are positioned in the market.
This is your chance to attack one of our offerings with a clear message, clear position and clear target audience. The more you focus on a niche, the stronger you can make your position and steal market share!
Don’t Copy Me
What I’m exposing may seem like our “dirty little secrets,” but every org has them to some degree. You need to realize that us 800 lb. gorillas have a lot more baggage than you.
You can envy our position and our revenue, but don’t think that you need to become like us. Just because we do something doesn’t mean we have a great reason for doing so and DOESN’T mean you should emulate us.
Start-ups and small companies need a healthy balance of understanding where they are out-matched by a larger competitor and where they have realistic opportunities against a larger competitor. Realizing where they are exposed and how larger competitors threaten their business is one side; identifying and capitalizing on a larger competitor’s vulnerabilities is the other side.
Amy Wolfgang is a career coach who founded Wolfgang Career Coaching and co-founded Coaching 4 Good. She brings over 15 years of corporate and coaching experience to help organizations boost employee engagement while simultaneously helping her clients excel in their careers. She is a certified PCM (Professional Career Manager) and has a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology from The University of Texas at Austin.
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