You can’t win a "military victory" against the competition

A “military victory,” in the sense of total control over the whole territory imposed on the entire population, is not possible.
Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, quoted in this week’s Marine Corps Times.

Competitive approaches in tech market reflects military doctrine in two ways. First, there is great variance between the dominant doctrines found in different countries and organisations. Second, most organisations assume that one approach can effectively guide highly different conflicts in widely-variant environments. While Kissinger’s comment above relates to Iraq, our feeling is that few combatants in the tech market realise that total control is unwinnable in any part of the market and that, correspondingly, their approach towards competitors needs to accept that.

Nevertheless, many organisations consider marketing to be a form of warfare. Some companies mistakenly set the goal of eliminating their competition, even if that goal is unrealistic. Many even go further, and communicate this goal to the market.

Many organisations in the English-speaking countries aim for employees to be emotionally engaged. In the US, this is frequently inflected with military idiom. In the US, civil society is militarised to a degree unparalleled in almost any other country. The percentage of people who are in military service, in reserve or who were, is high. Military spending is a large part of the US economy (50% more than the rest of the world added together), and laid the foundations for many of the high tech clusters in the US.

This is not the case in other countries. In Germany, for example, using military idiom and speaking from the basis of deep emotional commitment comes across as oddball, if not pretty scary.

I saw a good example of this when sitting in a meeting in continental Europe where a highly-qualified senior executive, visiting from the US headquarters of a large public tech firm, was briefing a local analyst. This briefing did not go well. She was aggressively contrasting her firm’s strategy to that of a powerhouse competitor. This executive reflected her firm’s culture, in that her goal was to destroy the competition, and present their competitor’s technology strategy as crazy.

This executive had found this a highly effective strategy in the US, where speaking with conviction, and understating competitors’ strengths, is more effective. In the European context, however, it sounded like a fantasy. The competitor was dismissed, even though it’s a powerhouse whose profits exceeds her firm’s already substantial revenue. Obstacles to her firm were ignored and sidestepped. Her firm’s goal of winning market leadership seemed, to the analyst mindset, to be a disorienting weakness rather than reflecting of her will to make things happen.

Few buyers, and even fewer analysts, feel that any vendor can win total control of a market, or should aim for it. However, some firms still explain themselves this way. Sadly, they don’t appreciate that the message they send is quite different from the reaction by the listener.

Of course, powerhouse vendors rarely speak so aggressively about the competition – for a range of reasons. Many vendors make a point of complimenting other suppliers. They understand that few, if any, of their stakeholders feel comfortable with a supplier fighting for total control.

Duncan Chapple

Duncan Chapple is the preeminent consultant on optimising international analyst relations and the value created by analyst firms. As SageCircle research director, Chapple directs programs that assess and increase the business value of relationships with industry analysts and sourcing advisors.