Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about “Zero Sum Game” –
In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the other participants. If the total gains of the participants are added up and the total losses are subtracted, they will sum to zero. Thus, cutting a cake, where taking a larger piece reduces the amount of cake available for others, is a zero-sum game if all participants value each unit of cake equally.
Many business owners believe in the zero-sum game. They think the path to growing their business is to take business away from their direct competitors. I admit it can be a fun approach if you’re winning, but ridiculously frustrating if you’re not.
Like so many things in life, it’s a point of view that becomes reality for those who hold to it. Like Henry Ford famously said, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Believe it’s true and it seems to become true. At least for you.
You’re competitive. That’s largely what drives you, the urge to win. To compete. To play the game of business. I certainly feel that way. But whenever our business isn’t hitting the targets of success, we have two fundamental choices in how to view it. One, it’s the competition. They’re the reason for it. Two, it’s us. It’s my fault. Today I want to make a strong case for why that second point of view is the smarter view.
“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” —Benjamin Franklin
Excuses don’t make us better. Nobody ever grew great by embracing the practice of excuse-making. The evidence is all around us. It doesn’t work. But if it did, boy would we be surrounded by outlandishly successful people, right?
“Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” ?George Washington Carver
Can I tell you one big advantage I had in starting my sales career as a 16-year-old? It’s really fortunate and the only role I played was my brashness to walk into a stereo store and ask for a job, then sitting across from the owner and earning a spot on his company’s roster. Working retail at such a young age – working on a straight commission basis (meaning if I sold something I made money, but if I sold nothing…I made nothing) – gave me a perspective that has served me since.
Focus on the customer.
Maybe it was my youthful naivete, but I just didn’t much care what the folks across town at the other stereo shops were doing. I knew them well. I knew what products they carried. I knew how they did business because I had spent hours visiting them. Before I ever began my own career selling hi-fi gear I had established in my mind how I thought a better experience could be given.
Namely, I knew how I was treated each time I went into these stores. And I understood why.
I was just a kid. I was never viewed as a serious prospect. But I loved this stuff. And you have to realize that back then stores weren’t big, warehouse type affairs with hoards of people clogging the aisles. These were small stereo stores where the biggest ones were a few thousand square feet with multiple rooms. Most had 2 to 4 salespeople at most, working at any one time. You could commonly visit a store and be the only shopper there.
I always wondered why many salespeople – people much older than me, but people who I assumed had more experience and know-how – wouldn’t take any time to teach me about some piece of equipment. I’m here. You’re here. Nobody else is here. Why not? (I thought)
Most didn’t behave like that though. So guess what I ALWAYS did?
I was always present with the shopper in front of me. Nobody else mattered. That phone ringing? Somebody else can get that. Anybody else walking into the store? Somebody else can help them. I was completely present with the shopper I was with. Later I would begin to hear sales training experts talk about that. It seemed odd to me because it was intuitive to me. What kind of retail salesperson wouldn’t be present with the shopper they were helping? Idiotic! But common.
That stupidly simple lesson served me for decades. I didn’t know at the time that I was avoiding the trap of excuse-making. It just seemed like the way to go. The smart way to conduct business. Now, years later it seems even smarter.
Business owners can be notoriously territorial. You know it’s true. We can get amped up at the guys across town who drive down our profits. We can get angry with a supplier for selling a profitable line to some hack company that can write a purchase order, but not much else. It’s tempting and easy to get focused on the things we can’t fully control.
You’re not a victim unless you make yourself one.
Today’s show title is a common refrain offered to business owners who lament a downturn in sales or missing their numbers…owners who love to think their lack of success (or growth) isn’t their fault. And that word is inflammatory I know. FAULT.
I understand that sometimes things happen beyond our control. I’ve had suppliers go across town to an arch rival and sign them up after I felt like my company worked hard to build up the brand, build value for the brand in the market, etc. It happens. And when the sales on that brand take a hit, I’ll admit sometimes people would buy it at the competition. But it was my responsibility (do you like that term better than fault?). The supplier wasn’t in control of my fate. The competition sure wasn’t in control of my fate. I was.
Firefighting success hinges on accepting the blame.
I don’t care what anybody tells you. Running a successful enterprise is firefighting. Idealists who have never done it can tell you that you shouldn’t spend your time fighting fires. They’re morons who have never done it. You’d better be an accomplished firefighter because if you’re not, you’re in big trouble!
You never know where the fire is going to erupt. You can prepare, plan and strategize all you want to avert fires, but they’re going to flare up in spite of your best efforts because there are so many variables beyond your control. Like the competition.
Accomplished firefighters are equipped, prepared and ready to jump into action. When the alarm sounds, we spring into action. Period. Our job is to put out the fire. Our job is to propel our company forward. Period.
Somewhere along my career path I read a phrase that stuck with me.
“If it is to be, it’s up to me.”
I believed it. I still believe it.
Your ability or opportunity to grow great – which includes your ability to grow your business – doesn’t hinge on the competition. You’re not playing a zero-sum game. The market is expansive.
The competition may be kicking your butt, but who’s fault is that? Yep, it’s your fault.
You won’t win by focusing on them. You’ll win by focusing on the customer. If Amazon hasn’t proven the value of that to you, then nothing will. Since day 1 Amazon has focused on the shopper.
I’m challenging you to lean hard into accepting a point of view that may be new to you. Or not. The pie or cake can be enlarged. Competition isn’t keeping you from getting your share. You’re keeping yourself from getting it. You’re failing the customer so the customer is voting with their money to go elsewhere. Don’t get mad with the competition. Or your customers. Instead, make up your mind that this is your company and you’re going to accept the blame. Then, you can jump into your fire suit and start fighting the fire like you know you should. You’re not a victim of this fire. You’re the person armed with the authority to extinguish it. So get busy!
Be well. Do good. Grow great!