Sun Tzu was a Chinese military general in approximately the 5th century, B.C. He is renowned for never losing a battle. He wrote a treatise on conducting campaigns called “The Art of War”. It is an excellent book and I highly recommend it.
Most people apply what Sun Tzu wrote to the on going battles with competitors, and this may in fact be a very good application of some of his axioms. Most people apply Sun Tzu’s writings from the point of “winning” that battle, when in fact he wrote about “not losing” the battle. He was renowned for never losing a battle. He didn’t win them all. Many times he chose not to engage the competition because he felt he did not have a sufficient enough advantage to assure his victory.
Sun Tzu wrote;
“If you do not know your own capabilities, and you don’t not know your adversaries capabilities, you can not win.
If you do know your own capabilities, and you don’t not know your adversaries capabilities, you can lose half the time.
If you do not know your own capabilities, and you do know your adversaries capabilities, you can lose half the time.
If you do know your own capabilities, and you do know your adversaries capabilities, you can not lose.”
This is very interesting stuff, and I have written about it before. The question I would like to address here is how this relates to Customers, not competition.
Once the engagement with the competition has been won, a new engagement begins with the customer. Once the customer has been won, they are not guaranteed to be your customer for life. The idea here is to follow the idea of “not losing” the customer. If you know your own capabilities (and you probably do because you won against the competition) you must now learn the customer’s capabilities in order to be assured that “you can not lose”.
Over time (either short or long term) your corporate / business / group focus can change. These changes may not be perceived as congruent with the directions and desires of your customer. Over time the people and requirements of your customer will also change. These changes may change their perception of the value of having the current business relationship with you. The key is to be aware of and adapt to these changes in both your and the customers “capabilities”.
Research shows that it is 5 times easier to sell a new product or capability to an existing customer than it is to sell to a new customer. Every customer that is lost out of your customer base takes 5 times the effort to replace. What this shows is that winning customers is great. Not losing the customers you have is 5 times better.
Once the competitors are beaten and the customer is engaged, it stands to reason that you can modify Sun Tzu a little to read;
“If you do know your own capabilities, and you do know your Customer’s capabilities, you can not lose.”