One of my favorite definitions of “strategy” is “Strategy is the creation of forced choices“. I thought this was a wonderful way to describe it. Properly developing a strategy does mean that we are choosing a path and it does mean we are giving up other things. And that’s the beauty of it! Too often I see organizations work without a strategy for many reasons (or excuses):
- We don’t have time to concentrate on that. We have enough day-to-day business to worry about.
- Any strategies we come up with won’t happen anyway; the world changes much too fast. It’s simply a waste of time.
- We aren’t sure where to begin.
- We’re doing well; we simply don’t need one.
- Blah, blah, blah.
(OK, no one’s really ever said “blah, blah, blah” to me…but I think you get my point.
I believe all these excuses (yes, call them what they truly are) are really masking one of the biggest fears businesses have; making tough choices. If we clearly define our brand, if we choose to attack certain strategies and tactics and not others, if we state our market position explicitly – well, then we can’t be everything to everyone. Yup, it’s true. Gasp! Being practical, we know we can’t be everything to everybody. We don’t live in a world of unlimited resources of time, money, attention. We MUST use our limited resources wisely. We MUST choose a specific path forward.
And let’s be honest. That’s what scares us. We are afraid that someone will look at our business and say that we are not for them. They may not buy from us. They are not attracted to us. We like to believe that we fit everyone’s needs. C’mon let’s admit it, consciously or unconsciously, too often we do think and behave that way. I know I do sometimes.
We also find it difficult to give up ingrained habits; things with which we are familiar and comfortable. We are used to doing things a certain way. We try to communicate in a certain way (using certain tools). The prospect of consciously choosing a different path (or giving up some of the things we now do) scares us. We might turn away a prospect or (even worse) an existing customer. All we see are lost sales. It’s called “inertia”, people.
I say let’s flip that thinking on its head. Instead of seeing lost sales, let’s see the prospect of higher sales (with customers who are a better fit. These customers have a better chance of staying for the long-term, buying more over their lifetime, are more profitable, and may become advocates on our behalf. Let’s target customers who view us less as a “transaction” (with ultra-thin loyalty) and instead target customers who truly want a relationship with us – and will tell others about us. Target the customers to whom we can provide true, deep value by solving their problems. Let’s embrace the change.
Are strategies “forced choices”? Heck, yes! Let’s quit trying to be everything to everyone and start proactively finding customers who we can blow away with the value of our products and services. Let’s choose a carefully-defined marketplace and offer them something unique, innovative, and remarkable. Let’s get our messages in front of an audience that is receptive to it because they have a challenge we can solve. Let’s raise employee morale by giving them clarity – who we are as a company (and a vision of what we will become), what marketplace problems we solve, what makes us unique. Yes, let’s force some choices on ourselves. Your company (and your customers) will be the better for it.