We are trained in sales to compete. Or more to the point, it is what is expected. The nature of business is competition; defeat your competitors and win the prize. It is a give and take world. The markets have no other way, it is a war, and there are distinct sides.
War plays a significant role in the language and motion of business. Early in my career, it was suggested that I read Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Much of the business literature I have read over the years speaks to the war for this, or the war for that. I saw an article in the Harvard Business Review recently where this quote caught my attention:
“The war metaphor makes an implicit statement about the nature of competing businesses. They’re not merely other firms; they’re opponents in a zero-sum game. They’re enemies who see us as enemies.”
You see this play out in popular Hollywood movies. Not too long ago, I watched the original Karate Kid with my son. While I do not look to 80’s pop-culture for lessons in life, there was this memorable scene in the dojo where the dojo master says:
“We do not train to be merciful here. Mercy is for the weak. Here, in the streets, in competition: a man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”
Enemy. No mercy. Zero-sum game. You win, they lose. That is the current metaphor of business, one that has a direct lineage to human warfare. Instead of territory and commodities though, we fight for talent, mind share, and market dominance.
But what if you could be the best and not have your success be at the expense of others? What if instead, we competed with ourselves to be better at serving our customers? And an even more radical thought, what if we could do business in such a way that everyone, including our competitors, succeeded?
Over the years, I have cultivated this philosophy of abundance. Not the abundance of technology advancement as Peter Diamandis described in his excellent book, but abundance of opportunity in our current world. In other words, that through cooperation, collaboration, and community, we can all find success, advancement, and economic opportunity above and beyond the limited worldview of competition.
Sometimes illustrations help. Think of a pie. The business world loves pie charts, so this is an apt metaphor. When we think of serving pie, we imagine the number of slices we need for all our guests. The more guests, the smaller the pie slices. In the framework of competition, your goal is to get a larger slice of pie.
In the framework of abundance, we do not have one pie that we divide. Instead we have many pies. We do not fight for ever smaller slices; we create more pies. We do not scrape by in an existence of scarcity; we abound in the riches of possibility,growth, and innovation. In other words, we have infinite pie.
There is freedom in adopting an abundance mindset. I have seen the following four benefits from building a strategic outlook based on abundance:
- Efficiency in resources – When you are not “looking over your shoulder” or chasing down competition, you can shift your resources to more useful activities and projects. All those people hours dedicated to competitive analyses and marketing can be diverted to more value-add needs.
- Organizational growth – The culture changes in subtle ways when your strategic focus shifts away from competition. You are freeing your people to focus on creating, not dominating. Winning a war is a very different mindset from building a culture based on the values of human advancement, altruism, and the collective good.
- Investment in innovation – The shift in culture from scarcity breeds innovation. When you fight a war, you invest in tools for positioning and value destruction. Abundance strategy allows you to invest in value creation activities and to take greater risks that would be untenable in wartime.
- Focus on customer success – All the above gives you more energy and space to dedicate to what really matters most – the success of your customers. While it might be shocking to hear, your customers do not care about your marketshare or competitive positioning. They need solutions to problems, and you can spend more time and money towards helping your customers achieve their objectives.
In my own world, I have used the growth of the Enterprise Sales Meetup as an example of abundance strategy. The B2B sales community that I started over two years ago is not the only resource available for sales professionals for high quality content, education, and networking. For example, there are great folks running Sales Hacker, AA-ISP, Institute for Sales Excellence (IES), and many more organizations for sales professionals.
Instead of competing against these and other groups, I have made a deliberate choice to partner and collaborate. Today, we partner with Sales Hacker to promote our local events throughout the world; many of the AA-ISP chapter leaders have been speakers at our events; and, Fred of IES is a good friend of mine who has helped me secure speakers for our DC community. In turn, I actively encourage my members to check out the events and resources of my partners.
I am sure there are many reasons you can cite against such active collaboration. It just sounds so soft and out of place in the serious business world. The idea of abundance flies in the face of how the corporate world acts and thinks. The idioms and ideology of war are too ingrained in the culture of modern business. It is too risky to put yourself out there and expose yourself when the competition is poised to rip you to shreds.
To that I would say, you have nothing to lose. The philosophy of abundance gives you the power to build anew instead of fighting for scraps. You have more empathy and care for your customers and employees, which creates greater loyalty. Your sales increase because you are customer-oriented instead of deal-oriented. When you talk about winning, it is from the perspective of long-term customer success versus short-term market share analyses or analyst report positioning in quadrants.
As you enjoy this holiday season, consider the idea of abundance as it applies to your business and your goals. Rethink long-standing views about your market and competition. Explore creative ways of building coalitions and partnerships that can build more “pies” for everyone. We are entering a new world of business where the existing ways are becoming quickly obsolete. The new mode of business is about collaboration, value creation, and faster cycles of innovation and improvement.
As you consider these words, I leave you with this one last question: Would you rather be the one shaking hands or building fences?