Sales folk go into battle every day to win business, but are they adequately prepared?
If you are leading a business you could do a lot worse than read a translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu. One of China’s Seven Military Classics it was written an awfully long time ago and it has a lot of useful tips on how to win a war. Even though it tells you how best to conduct a military campaign I think you can apply a lot of what it says to your business too as fighting to win customers and market share can seem like a battle at times. Sun Tzu is particularly big on positioning, based on objective conditions on the battlefield but also the beliefs of your opponents and allies. He thought of strategy as something other than a plan, in fact, more like a form of behavior that gives you the best chance of winning.
Many business owners find it difficult to establish a clear position of strength on their particular battlefield and even if they do they often fail to defend it very well. I would argue that it is a primary role of a business leader to first establish a strong position in a market and then to build on it and defend it from attack from others. It is unusual though for this to be done consciously although many businesses do get there by default. One business that has done this consciously is one of my clients, ArtiCAD, and I have just spent the last two days with its sales team at the Kitchen, Bedroom and Bathroom exhibition (KBB) at the NEC in Birmingham.
ArtiCAD sells CAD software for kitchen designers and others in this industry and has done so for the past twenty years. Some time ago we realized that they had a genuine advantage over competing software because it actually worked faster and it was easier to use. It is easier and quicker to design on it and that gives a distinct advantage to designers who often sit in front of their clients helping them to design the kitchen, bedroom, or bathroom that they want. Many of ArtiCAD’s customers told them that it really did help the sales process and help them to sell. This genuine product advantage seemed a great position to build on in the market and so the “designed to help you sell” strapline and underlying strategy were born. Ever since all of ArtiCAD’s development effort has been put into making ArtiCAD Pro, its lead product, an even better “sales tool “ enhancing it with features and developing complementary products.
I am sure that although 6th Century Sun Tsu may have been a bit baffled by the idea of CAD, or a designer kitchen for that matter, he would have approved of the strategy and he would have encouraged us to dig a little deep, to build a strong defense to protect the business from further attack and that is just what ArtiCAD has done. ArtiCAD have decided to invest in providing its clients with other resources to help them sell, to emphasize what makes it different from the competition, but also to help its clients become more successful. In collaboration with my online business, Business Growth Guides, ArtiCAD’s clients now have access to free webinars on how to market their businesses online and at KBB they had the chance to talk to me too.
Of course it is very important that any position you choose in a market space is credible, it must be based on a real advantage as perceived by the target market, but once you have done that it is equally important to use it to: align development choices; inform all market communications; and to build on it and develop it further. ArtiCAD’s initiative to provide enhanced support to its customers has been very well received and it is likely to develop further still. This positioning choice provides ArtiCAD with a framework for strategic action that may well need to adapt to changing times, just as Sun Tzu would have advocated, but it is likely to be recognizably the same for many years to come. Business can be a bit of a battle and the sales folk who understand the importance of taking and defending a strong position are the most likely to sell more.