Strategies for market leaders

A reader recently e-mailed me with this question,

There are many books / experts on what to do as the “new guy” taking on the market leader, but … what would you say if it is the other way round? When you are the big guy v the new entrant ankle biters.

That’s a great question, and I’ll try to get into some detail in later posts about leader and challenger strategies.  There is much to say on both.  Let me start with a few general principles here.

  1. Leader and challenger strategies are mirrors of each other.  In other words, if the challenger has a certain technique it can use to usurp the leader’s position, then the leader’s strategy is shaped in part by the presence of that challenger’s strategy.  The leader’s play is to neutralize the challenger’s play and vice versa.
  2. Therefore, all those challenger books and experts are leader books and experts as well.  Know your enemy.  These are the weapons that will be directed at you.  Study them and make your plan to defeat them.
  3. Every strength is a weakness.  Leaders have lots of strengths.  Savvy challengers will be looking for the vulnerabilities that lie in these strengths, the ones the leaders can’t afford to walk away from.  Wise leaders look for their own vulnerabilities before others find them, and then they try to find ways to plug the holes.
  4. Innovation will happen, whether you want it to or not.  Leaders tend to prefer the status quo as a general rule.  Smart challengers will try to break the status quo.  Oftentimes leaders find themselves in the position of resisting change.  That’s a dangerous game to play.  Change is like a river.  Sometimes you can block it for a while, but the pressure just builds and builds, and when it finally does come it’s fierce and devastating.  Smart leaders recognize that rivers cannot be blocked permanently but that sometimes their exact path can be influenced.  Smart leaders seek to influence that path.
  5. Stay nimble.  Another fact that can’t be denied, especially in the technology space, is that no matter how well we think it out, we’ll always be surprised.  To stay on top you have to accept that you can neither control nor predict the market.  You can help direct and shape it, but you have to be humble about even that.  Instead, you must keep your eyes open and be prepared to change your assumptions and plans based on what the market throws at you.
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