Some Sage Business Advice from James Schrager
On Friday, I attended the University of Chicago Booth School of Business’ Management Conference. Between a somniferous panel on Fed monetary policy and a digital marketing session that clearly revealed North-side dominance, I had the pleasure of attending one more lecture by James Schrager, clinical professor of entrepreneurship and strategic management. In past editions of this blog, I’ve shared just a small sample of his wisdom on practice and representations and decisions.
A cross between Gandalf and Yoda, Schrager is a wizard who has spent decades studying what makes some businesses successful. In his lecture, Schrager presented a very simple tool to analyze our business success. In business, he offered, success comes either from strategy, management, or luck. Strategy—how good is your idea? Management—how well can you execute it? Luck—what don’t you control that might go for or against you?
In Schrager’s words, “Great management is rarely trivial, and almost always required.” And best of luck, but remember that “luck is not a strategy.” Thus, we are left to deal with the quality of our ideas.
At this point in his lecture, we were transported to a small town and introduced to a lawyer. The challenge Schrager posed was this—how could that lawyer acquire new business? Schrager provided alternative roles the lawyer could play: he could be known and trusted, or understood to be a subject matter expert, or finally he could be someone you believe can solve your problem. Thus, we’re given three reasons to buy, three strategic models which are essentially market positions:
- Trusted Advisor
- World Class Expert
- Innovative Solution Provider
Many companies (though not all, to be sure) that find success, find it by building their market position on one of these models. And each model has its own characteristics.
A trusted advisor is well known to its clients and prospects, and their relationship is based on sustained trust. Do you know all the people you want to sell, and have you wined them and dined them before? Do they look to you for advice and counsel? This is a valuable position once you have it, but if you’re not already known in the marketplace as a trusted advisor, it’s a challenge. Trust is famously hard to achieve and easy to lose, and it’s hard to assert compellingly. “Trust me, I’m trusted” somehow lacks credibility. It’s rather like being a good lover or a class-act: if you say you are, you’re probably not. I’ve seen many trusted advisors encounter massive disruption over the years as a result of turnover at their client accounts.