The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Thursday, March 15, 2012
Volume 17 | # 404
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Admiring Their Style

A brief interaction with a hair stylist on a recent Saturday made me smile, and it reinforced one of my longtime mantras. The reason it did was that the interaction didn’t happen in a stylist chair. It happened on a sidewalk bench.

It was my turn to play chauffeur for my sons’ Tae Kwon Do lessons. Whenever I have to wait for that hour, I sit on the outside of the facilities’ glass wall. It was a chilly day, and I was the only person on the bench, semi-bundled up and splitting my time between reading a book and watching the class.

As I sat there, a woman walked up and asked me, “Excuse me sir, do you have children?” I looked up to see two smiling ladies standing there. It took a moment for me to figure out they were talking to me.

My first thought was, “No, I’m here recruiting future ninjas to join the resistance.” But my filter was working that day, and I smartly responded, “Uhhhh….yeah?”

With that, one of the ladies handed me a coupon for $7 kid haircuts at their shop. She then pointed out that it was only a few doors down from the Tae Kwon Do gym and said, “We give great haircuts at great prices!”

I responded, “Well, we won’t have time today. But, thanks.” They wished me a nice day and continued down the sidewalk.

I found myself smiling and admiring their hustle. Obviously their chairs were empty at that time. But instead of reading a magazine or just complaining that things were “so slooow”, they took to the sidewalks to meet potential customers.

When I later mentioned to my wife that there was a kid haircut place with good prices near the gym, she said, “We used to bring the kids there when they were little, genius.”

Oh. I had totally forgotten about a place I’d visited before, just a few doors down from a place I regularly frequent.

Most of us (at least now and then) will find ourselves with our own version of an “empty chair”. It’s also a fair bet that there are many folks in your vicinity – maybe even folks you’ve spoken with before – who have simply forgotten about you.

(Don’t take it personally. They have these things called “lives” that keep them pretty preoccupied.)

When was the last time you figuratively (or literally) hit the streets to remind folks of why you, your team and your bank are worth considering? Better question: When will you do it again?

A Smarter Strategy

I had the opportunity of attending Source Media’s Best Practices in Retail Financial Services Symposium this week. I’m friends with a couple of the folks who put it together and always appreciate the quality of the program.

This year was no exception. And as I sat in the rear of a large conference room, I had an interesting, if seemingly odd, thought.

This room was full of a few hundred really smart folks. Seriously smart. I chuckled as I looked around and thought that we could put together some pretty impressive “quiz bowl” teams here. And these folks were from scores of different banks.

I jotted down a simple note to myself: “Outsmarting the competition is not a legitimate long-term strategy.”

Don’t get me wrong. Being smart is nice. Okay, it’s really super nice. But thinking that being smarter than the competition is going to be a long term competitive advantage is nuts.

The folks in that room were experts in the industry. And many know their competition’s business about as well as their own. These are the kind of folks who actually understand those “r-squared” charts. Yeah, I’m talking that smart.

And some of the banks represented there have done pretty well. And some haven’t. I started playing a game in my head, wondering if I matched the smartest folks from the low-performing banks against the smartest folks from the high-performing, would there be much of a difference.

I honestly don’t think there would be.

Again, I’m definitely not suggesting that “smarts” and strategy aren’t important. But I think too many people believe that “strategy”, in itself, is what matters most.

Competitions and battles are not won on a chalkboard, PowerPoint deck, or computer simulation. The ultimate winners aren’t always the guys with the best game plans. It takes real work.

(I’m always reminded of the Mike Tyson quote, “Everybody’s got a plan… until they get hit.”)

Always try to outthink the competition. But remember that there are a lot of really smart bankers out there trying to do the same thing.

If you want to beat them, outwork them. (It’s funny how you seldom see that on a strategy slide.) Okay, if it makes some feel better, draw an r-squared graph to explain it.

And then go back to work.

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous. » Albert Einstein

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