Small players can beat even the biggest rivals


THE world of work can sometimes feel like you’re completely outgunned. If everyone around you seems better-qualified, more experienced and more likely to succeed, fear not: you’re in the same boat as most companies are when they launch.

We live in a world where most of us – either as businesses or individuals – have to get up every morning and compete against “giants” with more money, resources, experience and friends in high places than we’ll ever have.

Fortunately, winning isn’t always about having a bigger budget or an MBA. While researching my book, Killing Giants, I interviewed senior executives from great businesses like Adobe and Bowers & Wilkins who’ve succeeded by having a surplus of great ideas, passion and the desire to see it executed skillfully. I identified 10 ways these giant-killing businesses succeeded against seemingly overwhelming opposition. These same lessons apply to managing your career. If you feel out-muscled at work, here are three key tools to help you kill the giants.

First, seize the microphone. Often, smaller businesses succeed by spending their time talking to actual customers while their bigger competitors worry about big media outlets and investors. If there is no dominant voice in the market, they step up and become that voice. Even – or especially – if they’re not the biggest player. The world’s number one domain name registrar, Go Daddy, was an also-ran until it seized the microphone, telling consumers that owning your own website wasn’t just for big companies and “techies,” but for everyone.

In your career, the same applies when it comes to success and promotion: your customers just happen to be internal. Never assume that your boss and his/her bosses know what you know. Step up and explain what your team is doing, how it connects to their vision and what results you’re getting. We all get caught up in our respective to-do lists and communicating can get lost in the noise. Step up and seize the microphone.

Secondly, win in the last three feet. Smart companies love it when their giant competitors spend millions on splashy marketing campaigns: it drives potential consumers to stores or search engines like the yearly great migration. Companies like Adobe have applied this guerilla-styled approach, competing in the last three feet and converting their giants’ customers, one by one.

For you, focus on finishing well. Anyone can start brilliantly, but the ending is where results – and promotions – are made. Nothing ever takes care of itself and you’ll set yourself apart if you’re the member of the team who finishes solid plans brilliantly time and time again.

And thirdly, polarise on purpose. When companies put meaningful space between themselves and larger competitors, they force customers to make a decision. They either choose you – or they make the active decision not to choose you. For many, the Mini is an impossibly small car – but for those who tap into the brand’s ethos of fun, performance and responsibility, it’s the perfect size. It’s not for everyone, and this sense of exclusivity is their strength. Applied to your career, focus on being known for something. Whatever it is that you’re very good at doing, ensure that when the discussion comes up internally that all eyes point to you. And a word to the wise: developing and promoting this strength in an area that the CEO personally cares about is a smart move. If the CEO is an engineer and you’re known for creativity, for example, find a way to bring your strength to bear on new product design.

We all face giants in business and in life, whether competitors looming on the horizon or obstacles to be overcome in our own careers. Fortunately for us, the game isn’t just about scale. It’s about who has the best ideas, the most passion and the greatest desire to win.

Killing Giants by Stephen Denny is published on 31 March by Portfolio Penguin, priced £14.99