Tools and Tips

The business world is nothing but an ongoing push for companies to survive in a dog-eat-dog struggle with competitors, much like football. Even in the best of times, no company can afford to rest on its laurels. Either stay on top of your industry, or get knocked out of the competition. It's that simple and brutal. The whole point of my philosophy is to assume that you are always playing in the red zone, knowing that your competition is unpredictable, the rules are forever changing, and only by being agile and flexible, can you consistently win. Here are 10 ideas for success.

1. Focus on winning, ignore the naysayers.

My favorite example of someone succeeding in difficult circumstances is Bill Parcells, the current head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Although he was a fantastic coach with an incredible reputation, some people predicted he would not have the same success because the variables in his new environment were quite different from those he had dealt with before. But he focused on winning and simply blocked out the critics. He has ended up doing well in an environment where many thought he would not. My advice to business professionals would be to focus on winning and to keep a high level of confidence, no matter how many obstacles you face or how much negativity you hear.

2. Know your competition and don't underestimate them.

No question about it: there are always surprises in football. That's what makes the game so exciting. The same is true in the business world. Don't assume that the big names will come out on top in your industry. You might have an innovative idea that's destined to move up in the ranks fast. Pay attention to your competitors and never stop innovating.

3. Realize that when you are on top, you are a bigger target.

The teams favored to carry the season and ultimately win the Super Bowl are the ones the rest of the pack is gunning for and perhaps your company is in the enviable position of being the industry leader. But how enviable is that really? The sobering truth is that you have a great bull's-eye painted on your back. You can never let your guard down, you must strive harder than ever to give clients and customers outstanding service. Sounds exhausting, and it is. But not as exhausting as trying to catch back up once some young upstart competitor has outsmarted you.

4. If your playing field isn't working for you, build a new one.

Football players know that an unfavorable field can mean the difference between a winning and a losing season. Witness, for instance, the complaints by kickers at Pittsburgh's Heinz field. While teams like the Steelers may not have the luxury of changing their playing fields, businesses do. For example, if you are a financial planner trying, and failing, to sell mutual funds to 30-something professionals, maybe you'd be better suited focusing on selling your estate planning services to seniors. So, if you're trying and trying but keep failing, recognize that you may be on the wrong field?and get busy changing it. Agility and flexibility are absolute necessities.

5. Accept that past performance does not guarantee future performance.

Often in football, last year's stellar team is this year's dud. Never assume that just because a strategy worked once, that it will always work. Your business environment is constantly changing along with the players; therefore, your marketing tools and methods must change right along with it.

6.Keep your fan base stimulated.

Except for the die-hard loyals, football fans can be a fickle bunch. Have you ever seen Green Bay Packer fans during a losing season? Loyalty is their middle name. Usually, when a team is losing, they lose more than the games; they potentially can lose a good portion of their fans. The same is true of your fans, your clients. They have short attention spans, and, unless you have consistently worked to earn their loyalty, they will desert you for the first competitor that offers them a price discount. If you don't work hard to keep your fans, an on-the-ball competitor will gladly take them off your hands.

7.Pay attention to your bench: there may be some real talent there.

Remember last year, when quarterback Kurt Warner of the St. Louis Rams was injured and everyone was stunned to discover that his back-up, Marc Bulger, rose to the calling? There is a moral to this story for businesspeople. Don't assume that your "stars" are the only players who can lead your company to victory. Sometimes a tremendous talent is sitting, undiscovered, on your bench. Make an effort to cultivate all employees?someone you have never considered might have an unexpected skill or a brilliant idea that revolutionizes your company.

8. Block and tackle for your clients.

Every football fan knows that it takes a good offense and a good defense to make a winning team. The phrase block and tackle is as applicable to business professionals as it is to NFL teams. First and foremost, get to know your clinets' business and anticipate their problems. That way you can block potential problems for occurring, which is the prevention part of the equation. The other, more obvious, part involves tackling existing problems that they are experienceing. Essentially, you are giving them what they want?the solutions they are paying for?plus something extra?a dose of preventative medicine they didn't even know they needed.

9. Create an experience that keeps 'em coming back for more.

Some Green Bay Packer players are known for running out on their field during icy December days in short sleeves. Not only does this intimidate their rivals, it gets their fans wildly pumped up. Great football teams go all out to give their fans an incredible, exhilarating experience?one that convinces them to come back again and again. You should do the same. This is called creating client delight. Your clients should find every interaction with your company memorable and exciting. Every interaction with a client is another opportunity for you to gain a loyal fan, and all of the positives that go along with that.

10.Always stay in the game mentally.

Football fans know the exhilaration of seeing a sudden turn of events change the outcome of the game that everyone thought was over. Think about one of the biggest comebacks in football history: Early in the season, Indianapolis came back from a 21-point deficit going into the fourth quarter to defeat Tampa Bay, 38-35 in overtime. It was exciting and inspiring. Business leaders must embrace the, "it ain't over til it's over," philosophy and adopt a never give up attitude. Keep your eyes on the prize and give it a 100 percent effort until the game is really and truly over.

This article originally appeared in the March 2004 issue of HME Business.

About the Authors

Jason Goodman is managing editor of Water and Wastewater Products magazine.

Jennifer Keirn is director of marketing communications for Roscoe Medical Inc., an international distributor of replacement parts and supplies for the home medical equipment industry. She can be contacted at (800) 376-7263.

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