What is this thing called 9Stucks?
9Stucks is a dynamic business diagnostic tool. It identifies nine distinct yet interrelated business challenges that cause a company to underperform.

Aggressive Competition? You’re Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

SharkIn New England, nothing shouts “Summer!” more than the first report that sharks have been spotted off Cape Cod beaches. Great White sharks.  Six more were spotted this week cruising close to the shore in Chatham, MA.

When the island of Martha’s Vineyard was used as the setting for the 1975 movie Jaws, the movie rolled out a tide of beach fears that have never quite receded. Scenes from Jaws have caused adults and children to avoid swimming in the ocean, or panic and run from the water when seeing a harmless sunfish off the beach, or learn the pounding technique for scaring a shark away.

Are your competitors sharks? When new competitors are 100 yards off your company shore, or seemingly right next to your plant (boat) do you immediately think you ‘…need a bigger boat?’

Here’s a familiar scene from Jaws which illustrates the “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” reaction.

My experience has shown that management reacts in one of three ways when confronted with intense, encroaching competition:

  1. Panic. This would include: screaming, obsessing, flailing, and hand wringing, and lashing out at the management team and customers. These are the companies that immediately think they ’Need a Bigger Boat’ to defend against the new foes.
  2. Fall Asleep. This is the avoidance/hiding the head in the sand approach.  Sharks, HUGE Sharks? Ho, hum, snore. Hand me another ‘Gansett from the cooler.
  3. Jump In and swim with the sharks. This is the reaction from confident, informed management teams. They believe strong competition is helpful and healthy for the corporate ecosystem.

When a senior team either panics or falls asleep, the company becomes what I call Stuck in Traffic.  And like being stuck in beach traffic on a hot summer day, this is not most people’s idea of fun.

A Panic Example

ProcessCo had a lock on their regional market for a long time.  They were the dominant supplier of a complicated job shop process technique and they knew it.  A large foreign company that offered a competitive process was looking to expand in the US. They picked a number of regions to locate new plants; one location was smack in the middle of ProcessCo’s regional backyard. ProcessCo panicked by:

  • slashing prices
  • browbeating longstanding customers
  • setting unrealistic delivery schedules they could not meet
  • messing around with chemical formulations to cut manufacturing costs

Quality suffered, business declined, and rework costs went through the roof. Napoleon once stated: “Never interrupt your enemy while he is making a mistake.”

How To Avoid Becoming Stuck in Traffic

Some obvious reminders/recommendations on how to stand up to the competitive onslaught:

  1. Don’t obsess, take a breath
  2. Ask yourself: Have you been taking your customers for granted? Have their needs changed? Are you Stuck in a Rut?
  3. Panic can be accentuated when you don’t have a clear understanding of your value proposition or your business model is muddled. Stack your company up against this new competitor by looking at: a) your value proposition vs. theirs; b) document specific differences in product/service offerings: c) document differences in the all the facets of the business model ‘wrapping’ (i.e. customer service, customer processes, go to market tactics, financial strength, quality, etc.)
  4. Be objective – if the competitors’ product or service offerings are in fact superior to yours, what are your team’s action plans to restore equilibrium or leapfrog you ahead?

Ultimately ProcessCo calmed down and took action. Management realized that even though many of their customers were loyal, they expected fair, consistent treatment. The actions they took were not hard; they fixed:

  • the formulations and the quality problems
  • the delivery and scheduling mixups
  • the pricing
  • the overall levels of customer service

In the end, ProcessCo realized swimming with the sharks made them a better company.




  1. As a founder of an Employee Benefits Brokerage firm that principally markets an employer’s health insurance benefits each year; I am constantly reminded of the sharks chumming the waters that surround my client base. As an 1986 graduate of Bowdoin ( you do the math ), I wanted to add additional emphasis to your point of possibly “taking your customers for granted.” After having fended off many a shark over the years, I have developed some very good relationships with some of my clients and was shocked to hear the frequency in which these relentless beasts persisted after their prey. In one example, my account had been pursued by as many as eight seperate sharks in the three months preceeding their health renewal date.

    Of course this had no affect on an already neurotic, paranoid, and suspicious individual such as myself….not ! This client’s revelation had not really been a surprise, I had always suspected the competition was nipping at my heels, but to hear first-hand accounts that described both the volume and intensity of these shark attacks had a profound impact on me. We charted a very specific course to become a more ‘high touch’ sensory organization. We hired Constant Contact and established a Monthly Newsletter; we set parameters for mandatory face-to-face meetings; we began the marketing process early and earlier as it seemed we were most vulnerable in the months just prior to renewal. Suffice it to say, we made many changes.

    I believe there is often a subliminal fear or even some mild intrepidation to reach out to your existing clients. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach is a flawed formula especially in thsi economy where there are often too many sharks after too few prey. Thanks for your insight.

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