Should the USWNT have let up when they realized they were the better team on the field and had already scored a few goals? Should they have played down to match the level of play from Thailand, so it was a less lop-sided game? What’s the point of playing a soccer game at the highest level of competition, the World Cup, if both teams aren’t going to play at their highest level? But more importantly for the USWNT in this case, when athletic teams begin to “play down” to their opponent, they can adopt bad habits and make mistakes that can translate into future games. Players slack off and underestimate the opponent they are guarding. The other team begins to score and that is how upsets happen. How would the soccer community have reacted if, after eight goals, suddenly the USWNT started sloughing off? This is the World Cup after all, not a Saturday recreational game, and, to win the World Cup, you need to play at your highest level for the entire tournament.
These same concepts apply to business. Every day, a competitor is targeting our key clients and our project opportunities and they are putting together their strategies to take over those clients and win those projects away from us. They are hiring key staff with the specific skillsets and experience to break into a marketplace we thought we had locked up.
As a small business, we can be especially vulnerable to larger companies thinking they can sweep in, dominate the ball, and start scoring goals against us and winning favor with our clients. We are playing a game of inches, where seemingly little things can count big. As business owners, we need to come to work each day ready to play our best and motivate our staff to do the same. Perhaps most importantly, we need to always be on the offensive, working at the management level and filtering down to the staff level, to build a strategy for not only keeping our best clients, but identifying the next big market and next key client. We need to be taking calculated risks and putting out new proposals, even while diligently delivering on the work-in-hand. Like every great soccer player, our heads need to be on a constant swivel not only defending our position in the marketplace where we already stand, but being able to read the game and plan our attack so we know precisely what we are going to do with the ball (i.e., that great opportunity) when we get it.
We need to be diligent in our quality control and project tracking. We shouldn’t settle for staff who put in the hours but deliver mediocre work. We need to always be at least one step and one goal ahead of our opponents, by not letting up on our regular contact with key clients, delivering high-quality work on-time and within budget, and effectively providing value and solutions to our clients. It’s when companies settle into their heels rather than staying on their toes and start delivering so-so reports, average proposals, or client managers start thinking “I’m too busy, I’ll just call her or him tomorrow,” that suddenly there’s an upset and that contract you thought was in the bag is handed to your number one opponent. It’s game on and we must stay focused and keep our eyes on the prize!
Published in The Zweig Letter