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Force Your Competition To Defend Multiple Fronts

One of greatest Union generals in the U.S. Civil war, William Tecumseh Sherman, described the goal of effective military strategy as maneuvering so that the opposing general finds himself “on the horns of dilemma.” That means you should force your competitor to choose to defend target A by sacrificing target B or vice-versa.

One of
greatest Union generals in the U.S. Civil war, William Tecumseh Sherman,
described the goal of effective military strategy as maneuvering so that the
opposing general finds himself “on the horns of dilemma.

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That means
you should force your competitor to choose to defend target A by sacrificing
target B or vice-versa.

General
Sherman applied this strategy repeatedly throughout the Carolinas and Georgia
between 1864 and 1865. He would separate his troops into two or more distant
columns. Each would threaten a different target. This prevented his opponents
from concentrating their forces against him. By forcing his opponents to break
up and defend multiple apparent targets, his opponents found they lacked the
mass to defend any.

While Ajit Prabhu, the co-founder and chief executive officer of QuEST Global, and his team may not liken their strategy to this pattern, they have
brilliantly implemented this ancient principle in what they call the
“global-local model.”

As Ajit
describes, “The company came to be this local-global model. It comes from the
realization that people don’t become smarter just by getting on a plane.”

By traveling
to the United States, as Ajit did, an Indian engineer can earn many times what
he would earn by doing the same work in his home country. Why does he earn
more? Because he is local and this gives him certain advantages.

For example,
it allows him to have face-to-face contact with his clients, which lowers the
risk of miscommunication. It also allows him to collaborate more efficiently
with the clients’ engineers, and this close proximity helps him understand the
cultural context for the work.

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While
clients should pay for this additional value, Ajit didn’t think they should pay
more for the engineer’s brains. So QuEST’s model is designed to optimize the
workload by providing the collaborative client-facing work locally, and then
producing the problem-solving abroad. This approach seems simple, but it cuts
against the norms QuEST’s competitors have settled on.

Most of its
peers either conceive themselves as local, high-value engineering firms or as
low-cost outsourcing firms. While their web sites may tout otherwise, a
dissection of their organizational and incentive structure clearly places them
as either local or global, but not both.

QuEST, by
contrast, conceived itself from the beginning as being not an Indian firm, nor
a U.S. firm, but both.

“You
have to find a global optimum. That’s not in one location,” says Ajit.

More
importantly, QuEST’s management has designed its entire business around this
unique conception. As a result, they have strung together a sequence of
interlocking decisions in such a way that competitors cannot easily copy just
one of them. Consider just a few of QuEST’s strategic decisions:

  • ·        
    They organize as one global team: the head of sales does not
    always sit in the U.S.; the head of engineering does not always sit in India.
  • ·        
    They implemented a company-wide feedback and incentive
    system that tracks each person on indicators of whether he/she
    is successfully being global and local.
  •     They have evolved procedures, a methodology, and a way
    of working that helps them efficiently collaborate across borders, doing
    the local work locally and “global” work in India.
  •     They have a mission and vision that guides them away
    from conceiving themselves as Indian or American, which keeps them true to
    their global mission.

Sure,
competitors can copy any one of these. But to do it well, they need to copy all
of these and that takes time, money and planning. Ajit and QuEST have created a
multi-front attack and competitors cannot compete on the same level without
losing the ground they already have.

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As Ajit
says, “Our strategy is something that is easy for others to understand,
but hard for someone to duplicate.”

Ask yourself the
questions below to see how you can beat your competition by provide some
services at reduced costs without hurting client relationships.

1.      
Is
there a service or product that can be completed or purchased for less money?

2.      
Are
there distributors that I haven’t considered?

3.      
Can I
cut deeper into the supply chain to get better prices? 

4.   Can a select few “face” people handle the client relationships while the “hidden” majority completes the work? 

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About the author

Author of Outthink the Competition business strategy keynote speaker and CEO of Outthinker, a strategic innovation firm, Kaihan Krippendorff teaches executives, managers and business owners how to seize opportunities others ignore, unlock innovation, and build strategic thinking skills. Companies such as Microsoft, Citigroup, and Johnson & Johnson have successfully implemented Kaihan’s approach because their executive leadership sees the value of his innovative technique.

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