Become a Crow / Fierce Competitor in Business: A Users Guide

Venture capitalist and entrepreneur Mark Suster once shared an awesome pearl of business wisdom (via Kellblog): In a strong wind, even turkeys can flyin his blog post of the same name.

This insight came from Mark Suster’s colleague Ameet Shah, a co-worker at Andersen Consulting  in the late 90’s.  Andersen Consulting was the largest independent consulting firm at the time, but amid scores of existing competitors and newly-funded Internet consulting startups…

…the market seemed crowded and our leadership position that had been built over many years seemed to not matter any more…[But] Ameet said to me, “Ah, I’ve seen this many times before.  See, Mark, in a booming market you can never tell the winners from the losers.  In a booming market buyers aren’t very discerning and companies that have weaknesses can mask them…Andersen Consulting always gains market share in down markets.  That’s where the companies who are [only] good at marketing tend to crumble…Don’t worry, we’ll be fine, just wait for the next downturn.”  That had never occurred to me.  In other words, in a strong market, even turkeys can fly.  (emphasis added)

A company that works to “gain market share in down markets” and seizes “the next downturn” as an opportunity is most certainly the opposite of a “flying turkey” business.  I’d call it a “crow” business, referencing the amazing adaptability and intelligence of crows, as I have blogged previously.

I also suggest reading Jeffrey Fox’s book, How to be a Fierce Competitor: What Winning Companies and Great Managers Do in Tough Times – a great user’s guide on how to become a “crow” business.

Read on for a review of this great book along with more insights from Mark Suster’s great blog post.

In his usual quick, cut-to-the-chase text style he established with his original bestseller How to Become CEO, Jeffrey Fox begins his book by describing fierce competitors as companies that “relentlessly, tirelessly, continuously do whatever they legally can to pursue and capture every profitable customer.”  Well, even the most pudgy flying turkey company would claim to do that.  So what makes a fierce competitor/crow business truly unique?  In a nutshell, it is how they respond to tough economic times.  No doubt Ameet Shah would approve of this by Jeffrey Fox:

The savvy, smart, well-led companies see bad times as a good time to gain market share, to outfox the competition…From the economic panic of 1823 through the Great Depression and the twelve recessions since 1955, the facts are indisputable: those companies that outsell, outmarket, out-train, out-innovate and out-hustle their competition emerge from a downturn in a stronger market share and profit position than do those companies that hunker down…Fierce companies go after the business when the other companies are giving up on the business.

In similarly fast-paced, no-nonsense text, Jeffrey Fox provides over fifty best practices of fierce competitor companies to achieve the above-noted overarching aim of taking advantage of tough times…with the tenacity and hardscrabble adaptiveness of the crow.  Rather than just quote selections of Jeffrey Fox’s book chapter and verse, I’d like to share some recurring themes from How to be a Fierce Competitor that jumped out at me:

  • Fierce competitors/crows have leaders who are self-leaders. They set winning examples, including being visible, with customers, prospects and employees – and not just physical presence, but also in active communication, sharing news, company strategy, and otherwise being an evangelist for the company’s culture as a fierce competitor.  They also reject traditional, antiquated executive perks like preferred parking spaces and the like.  Flying turkey CEOs are more likely to remain aloof, seemingly behind closed doors and are otherwise “missing in action” with any number of managerial layers between (s)he and the customers.
  • Flying turkey CEOs generally don’t think strategically; they merely react. They will very likely respond to tough times with all-too-familiar, shop-worn actions, most notably reactionary cost-cutting.  They might ” ‘save’ money by quarantining their sales people, by cutting [marketing, or] customer service reps.”  Of course, such “cost savings” are illusory and myopic; Jeffrey Fox likens such cuts to a baseball team cancelling batting practice.
  • Leaders of fierce competitors/crows embrace change. They recognize change is a constant and neither fear it nor resist it.  Without this core mindset, a company cannot be a fierce competitor/crow business.

Returning to Mark Suster’s blog post: In 2001, Andersen Consulting, now as Accenture, was able to “double down on recruiting, sales, outsourcing, new market entries and marketing (yes, with Tiger Woods ads)” while other consulting firms were laying people off en masse and most of the Internet consulting startups were already bankrupt.  The flying turkeys had already crash-landed.

Mark Suster sees a similar process going on in the market today and offers the savvy advice of a fierce competitor:

When the tech market is done over heating, or over hyping or whatever is going on right now, there will be a select few companies who have built differentiated products, hired talented teams, raised sufficient capital, established good operational processes and have strategic insight into where their market is heading.  These companies will grab massive market share as others fall behind.  Many “me, too” companies will perish…My advice to entrepreneurs is to have a sense of purpose and stick to that regardless of what you’re reading in TechCrunch or Business Insider…If you know what your customers need, deliver against that promise and provide a product or services that has economic value you’ll do well.  Double-down on great people, process & IP.

If you liked this article, you may also like:

The “Door of Success” Opens Both Outward and Inward

Innovative Companies Don’t Have Employee “Sediment”

Point/Counterpoint: Two Polar Opposite Managerial Styles & Personal Brands


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