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Published 28 March 2012 14:44, Updated 29 March 2012 05:02
I have been blessed with the opportunity to work for some outstanding business leaders, organisations and even athletes and while we have served them for many years, they have also provided us with outstanding insights you can’t learn in university and you can’t start late for. Just recently, I had the privilege of having dinner with one of the world’s most successful formula one race car drivers. He spoke of how, when he was number one in the world, competitors would behave very fiercely.
Everything was about gaining an edge, a piece of technology or a piece of intellectual property that would help propel the racing car faster. He said the truly great teams would be built over time and they would evolve and get better every year. He was aware of his competitors and the lengths they would go to in order to short cut the hard work done to develop his team.
Some of them thought taking his ranking was as simple as poaching members of his team and that this alone would make them faster. He said the real performers always wanted to stay with his team because they liked being No.1. Sure, he lost some of his team from time to time but the thing about this was that while his competitors thought they were getting the best (and gloated about it), they were only actually getting the weakest members of his side and inevitably, the gap between his winning racing team and the competing teams was widening.
Sport and business in this particular area are very much the same.
Great brands are built over time. There are relationships that are rock solid because they have been earned by having an exceptional product or service that is consistently delivered during high times in the customer’s life cycle but more importantly, in low times. Growth in a perfect world therefore should really be organic.
After all, buying customers, clients or databases does not make any sense unless you have the capability to perform and improve the relationship that exists with those customers.
Achieving growth by acquisition can be expensive if the goodwill you bought does not stay with you; buying customers or staff to get customers doesn’t guarantee that they will come over; and, lastly, the sort of person that is “up for sale” may cause you more grief than is imaginable.
In this day and age, everyone wants growth but growth really should be achieved as a byproduct of having the best product or service, not cheapening it through acquisitions or attempting to steal it from a competitor who has shown what it takes to be successful.
When tennis star Steffi Graf was questioned on why she stayed number one for so long, she would remark that she trained like she was number two. This again is a common thread that businesses can learn a lot from in what should be their perpetual goal for improvement.
I often hear that business leaders need a high degree of persistence and while this is true, a business leader should not fail to also identify that their product offering should be exceptional before simply being persistent about pushing their product. I learnt early that if the product you are selling is the best in its segment for a price that is set fairly, then the sale should be the easiest part. It won’t require higher than reasonable degrees of persistence to sell and, certainly, there won’t be the need to “ram it down the throat” of potential buyers.
I generally don’t ever ask or tout for business, unless an inquiry is made of me in the first instance. In fact, when people inquire of me and they tell me that they generally have a good relationship with their accountant, I recommend that they stay with that good relationship because, from an honour and moral perspective, there is clearly no need to tamper with that relationship if the client’s needs are already being met.
Competition is everywhere and it is healthy to be aware of your competitors but not fixated on them. As the world’s most successful formula one driver says, he would be nowhere without his team, the engineers, the statisticians, even the guys who predict the weather. To get to number one and stay there he earned those relationships the honest, proper way and he went out and achieved success not by trying to buy it.
Next week: Freelancer.com founder Matt Barrie