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Down the Rabbit Hole (How Not to Go There)

August 26th, 2013

“Alice started to her feet…[and] ran across the field after [the White Rabbit]…just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”   Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

It’s been years since I’ve read Alice in Wonderland, but I see business owners spiral down rabbit holes all the time. Maybe you’re one of them. All it takes is a distraction—a competitor emerges, a strategic relationship falters or a regulatory issue sparks a new product setback—and your focus follows, keeping you up at night and making you miserable by day.

A business owner who had successfully cultivated a market for his company’s products discovered that a competitor offering inexpensive duplicates had infiltrated two of his company’s biggest accounts.  Unfortunately, his fall down the rabbit hole was not nearly as entertaining as Alice’s. The news reached him through his network of business contacts, and it put him into a tailspin. He spent days researching the competitor and re-reading the emails from his business contacts for clues. He postponed meetings with his team while he consulted attorneys. He put 100 percent of his attention on the competitor.

When you find yourself in that downward spiral, it can be hard to pull yourself out, so rule No. 1 is: Don’t go there. If you’ve already followed your White Rabbit down the hole, pull yourself up and out.  Here’s how.

Focus on Your Own Strategy

When the business owner and I met to discuss the situation, he was frantic. “I’ve got to figure out their strategy. How do I stop them?”

The answer? You can’t stop them. Competition is a reality of a free market system. Focus on figuring out your own strategy, in a way that positions your company favorably and uniquely with buyers. When you find yourself thinking more about what your competition is doing than what your company is doing, pivot the focus back to your own company, and explore your options:

  • How accurate is the information?
  • Does the information impact how you do business?
  • What actions can you take that will move your company forward?

This business owner had several options, which included identifying and monetizing a significant point of difference between his products and the competitor’s. He was then able to initiate conversations with company executives within his key accounts to reinforce the relationship, as well as his products’ quality and value.

Stay Connected to Your Team

Shutting yourself away from your team doesn’t protect them; it provokes anxiety. Teams talk. They can sense when there is an issue and are not only willing to help, but also can provide valuable perspective and talent. The business owner had tried to shield his key account manager from the situation, and I suggested that we include her in brainstorming new approaches to her accounts and her pipeline. With her input, we developed series of interactions and questions for customers, and a process for identifying prospects who place a priority on product quality and long-term performance.

Remember Your Core Strengths

It’s always a good idea to remember your successes, and it’s especially a good idea to remember them when a setback occurs. Make a list of the successes your company has had in closing new sales, launching new products and creating value for customers. Review your list for the core strengths it reveals and focus your company’s time, talents and resources on playing to those strengths.

The business owner and I listed his company’s successes and identified two key strengths. We then developed a plan to highlight these strengths to attract booth traffic and develop a sales promotion for an upcoming trade show. The result? The company’s booth was crowded with prospects and sales reps were busy writing orders throughout the three days of the show.

Your focus is precious—perhaps the single most valuable asset you bring to your company. Don’t waste it on distractions. Keep your eyes on the prize and leave the rabbit holes to Alice.