Boot On The Neck And Push

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As a management consultant, I sit down with heads of companies and help them create strategies to win.

Mostly, these strategies are civilized, but sometimes they are rough. I’m going to share a rough one with you.

It’s called “Strength Against Weakness Strategy.”

It goes something like this:

If you have a dominant strength, and your competitor has a glaring weakness, you strike at that weakness with your strength until the competitor is completely defeated.

As I say to my clients, “if you choose to go after your competition’s weakness with your dominant strength, you need to picture yourself putting the heel of your boot on his throat and pressing down until every last drop of blood is squeezed out of him. If you can’t picture yourself doing this, don’t fool around with this strategy.”

Personally, I don’t like this strategy. It’s barbaric. It’s everything I have striven not to do in business. The only problem is, the strategy works. And I must admit that I have recommended it a time or two or three.

In business you need strategies that work. Under the right conditions this strategy works.

Have I ever seen a Strength Against Weakness Strategy executed well? Yes, and I’ve seen it executed poorly.

Executed Poorly

There was this radio station in a major city* that played female oriented “adult contemporary music.” The station had a competitor which played the same music, but was more successful at appealing to older females. (Not old females, older females.) It was number 1 in the format ratings, and my client was number 2.

Over time, however, this competitor had slowly stopped playing music that appealed to the younger end of this female demographic. This became a glaring weakness. My client noticed, and seized upon this weakness. My client had the programming talent to appeal to a younger audience. It worked. Younger females began tuning to my client’s dial position. Ratings improved, sales improved, profits increased.

Then for some unknown reason, the general manager made the decision to let up a little bit. The station started experimenting with its music. It thought it would try to broaden its appeal to include older females. It had neither the talent nor the legacy to pull it off. In other words, the boot’s heel came off of the competitor’s neck. Disaster.

Within days of the let up, the competitor started playing many new songs geared to the younger demographic, and didn’t let up. My client lost almost all of the younger female audience. They could never get it back. Eventually my client conceded defeat, and started working on a new format. Almost everyone on that management team lost their jobs over that mistake. It cost millions of dollars in lost revenue and profits.

Executed Well

A beverage company, a client of mine, was sued by a local competitor. The competitor’s strategy was to intimidate my client, and bring about a quick settlement for a lot of money by hitting my client with an expensive lawsuit. (What lawsuit isn’t expensive?)

In a strategy meeting, my client decided not to settle with the competitor, but to wait things out. Their reasoning was they had more resources to defend against a lawsuit, than the competitor had to pursue the lawsuit.

The execution of a strength against weakness strategy paid off. My client never gave in. Sensing this resolve, the competitor backed off. Ultimately, the competitor ran out of resources to continue the battle.

The competition failed to understand its own weakness, and underestimated my client’s strength.

Resolve

Using this strategy takes resolve.

When I consult with clients, I expect them to look at and consider every other strategy option open to them before they choose the S/W strategy. And if they choose this course, I expect them to use it to the full extent of its ability to drive the competitor out. Anything less than this turns out poorly.

Learning This Young In Life

I once had a friend who was three years older than I was. One day, he came to my door and said, “you’ve always wanted to see me fight, come on, I’m going to fight Eddie Copp.”

Eddie was the toughest kid in eighth grade. My friend, Tom, was among the toughest in ninth grade.

We walked down to an open field and there must have been a hundred kids waiting there to see the fight.

Tom threw the first punch and hit Eddie in the mouth. The brawl was on. Both were bloody within seconds. The only difference was Eddie was taller than Tom, and with his longer arm, kept flicking his fist out there and hitting Tom in the nose. Tom would run toward Eddie and hit him with body blows and then work up wildly throwing punches at Eddie’s face.

Eddie would step back, blood flowing from his mouth, and groaning from the body blows. His right eye started swelling up. But he kept flicking that left fist out there just barely connecting with Tom’s nose.

I thought Tom was winning. Then all of the sudden, Tom shouted out, “I’ve had enough.” The fight was over, just like that.

That evening Tom’s thumb swelled up. I said, “that’s why you quit, you broke your hand.”

“No”, he said, “It was my nose. He kept hitting my nose. I couldn’t see anything.”

I remembered that, when months later Tom made me put on the boxing gloves one day to teach me how to box. He was giving me some instructions when I remembered his tender nose

The next thing I knew, I jabbed him in the nose.

His eyes started watering. He was hurt. He didn’t come after me, though, because the toughest kid in the school, Paul East, was in the front yard with us. Paul didn’t like Tom, and was always looking for a reason to fight him. Tom stood there with his glove up to his nose.

Paul stood there laughing. Tom did nothing. I hit Tom at his weakest point with my strongest point: my knowledge of his tender nose, and Paul East standing there just itching to find a reason to go after Tom.

Strength against weakness is a brutally successful strategy when used properly. Use it when you are sure of the other guy’s weakness, and you have an overwhelming strength. If it’s there, go after it with all you have.

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*For contractual reasons I am unable to share the name of the city.