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.
Alternatively, as a world class expert, you’re known to the buyer...and to most of the rest of the players in the industry, too. How? By being a world class expert you’ve spoken at conferences, written articles and been on the board of various associations. If it sounds like that’s going to take a lot of time, it’s because it will. But it can pay in the long run, and the good news about this position is that it can be believably promoted (if indeed, you’ve done the foundational work) because there are external markers that support and validate your assertion. In direct marketing, think Peppers & Rogers.
Finally, as innovative solutions provider, you don’t need to know your prospect and they don’t need to know you. You need to blow them away with a great pitch involving fresh ideas they haven’t seen before. It needs to be simple once explained, and they need to be able to use it tomorrow. So, while not a silver bullet (great thinking and superb solutions are, sadly, more easily described than created), this is a market strategy that is more “available” than the first two. One major challenge of this position, however, is its near ubiquity. Just punch “Innovative solutions provider” into your favorite search engine to see for yourself. I did, and in 0.33 seconds, Google returned 120,000,000 results.
So what kind of company is yours? Run down the list of each of your customers and ask yourself what you are to each them. And here’s the strategy part...what do you want to be to the next new customer and how will you create and sustain that position?
A third-generation printer, Dustin LeFebvre delivers his vision for Specialty Print Communications as EVP, Marketing through strategy, planning and new product development. With a rich background ranging from sales and marketing to operations, quality control and procurement, Dustin takes a wide-angle approach to SPC