Mar 6, 2014

Tilt The Odds: Choose A Niche To Win

No one ever said business has to be fair. Everyone is trying to find a strategy or a way to tilt the odds in their favor.

I came into the world of branding and marketing strategy as a sales guy who lost his competitive advantage. In 2004 I joined my family’s business as the Director of Business Development. During the 90’s our sales team could generate a new piece of business every single week. If they were diligent with their calls and built solid client relationships, they were successful.

But in 2004 the tables had turned. What used to take our reps a week to achieve was now taking them a month. And more and more we were relying on cold calling and push marketing tactics just to keep the sales funnel full.

To turnaround the business we conducted a strategic analysis of our company, our market and what it would take to succeed in our industry. The findings shocked us. Our sales people weren’t failing us, our brand was. We were in the wrong market, and the odds were stacked against us.

Choose the right playing field

Roger Martin and A.G. Lafley write in Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works, “No company can be all things to all people and still win, so it is important to understand which where-to-play choices will best enable the company to win.”

One of the main issues my family’s business faced was the playing field had tilted. The company was founded in 1989 as an IT Staffing firm, and did very well through the boom times of Y2K and the Dotcom Bubble. But after the recession of the early 2000’s the industry shifted.

IT Staffing shifted to a “wholesaling model.” This meant high volume, low margin placements focused on big companies with big IT departments. But this wasn’t our firm’s strength.

Choosing the right playing field starts with understanding your strengths. What do you do best? Where do you excel?

Our skills were not aligned with the market shift. If we wanted to play to our strengths we’d need to find a niche that fit.

Go all in

You can’t expect to win if you don’t go all in.

When we recognized we were operating in the wrong playing field we made a few bold moves:

  • New name: We changed the company name from Miller & Associates to LEAPJob.
  • New positioning: We repositioned the firm from IT Staffing to sales and marketing recruiting.
  • New approach: We invested in new technology, training and systems to serve our desired niche.

The transition was scary. We were essentially leaving behind all of our past customers and relationships, and entering an entirely new market. We hit the reset button, and had to start from scratch.

The commitment was daunting. Our sales plummeted for nine months after the rebrand. We knew we had the right strategy, and worked hard to tell our story and build new relationships. All we could do was wait. But then things clicked. After nine very scary months we turned the corner and the business took off. The phone began to ring weekly with new clients.

Tilt the odds in your favor

Recognizing the odds are not in your favor is painful. It’s hard to recognize you don’t have a sustainable competitive advantage. But finding a new playing field or a new niche where the odds are in your favor is even more painful.

The easy answer is to stick it out and keep doing what you’re doing. But you won’t achieve any real success that way. You’ve got to commit to the new strategy and stick with it.

Every company that grows a sticky brand makes strategic choices of where they will play, how they will win, and how they will tip the odds in their favor.

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