He was a lot smaller than I and certainly didn't look that intimidating -- maybe 5-foot-8 and 150 lbs. Me? 6-foot-3 and 210.
He was younger, too, by maybe 10 or 12 years.
It's a good thing fierceness isn't measured in inches or birthdays.
He came in close and hit me so hard I had to take two giant steps back to regain my balance and breath. A few seconds later, he was in my face again, and it felt like a railroad spike had been driven through my sternum. From behind me I could hear a calm, quiet voice with a familiar Korean accent trying to help: "Keep him away. Keep him away!"
Too late. We were chest to chest again, and I felt his knee connect with my ribs. Fortunately, the call of "time" gave me some reprieve.
Grand Master Dong pulled me aside: "Why you fight HIS fight?"
"Huh?" came my reply. "Master Dong, he's a second-degree black. I'm only a red belt!"
"That doesn't mean you don't have advantage. You have long legs. You have long arms. Use them. Keep him away. He WANTS to be close to you. He wins if he's close to you. Don't let him in your circle."
The second and third rounds went better. What was ostensibly going to be a massacre turned out to be more competitive than any of us expected. I kept him away.
In our businesses, we frequently let our competitors get in close and make us fight THEIR fight. It's dangerous. Whether we're prospecting, selling or servicing current clients, knowing our "zones" before we engage is critical.
We first decide which areas of the market we are going to OWN. Owning means zero-tolerance. It means that we will not allow any competitors or their sales teams to get a foothold. We will do whatever is competitively necessary to keep them out: service, pricing, delivery, strong relationships.
To do this, we'll need to know intimately the strengths and weaknesses of not only of our own company, product and team but ALSO that of our competitors. We have to keep them away!
"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."— Sun Tzu
The next ring (yellow) is that for which we'll aggressively compete. These include situations in which our company and products are a good fit and margins are acceptable but perhaps a competitor is already "in." We'll expend lots of energy and resources to expand our territory and grab market share. The intention is to eventually own this space, too, and drive our competitors back.
Lastly is the perimeter. This is the market for which we "reach" if we have the resources, time, drive and capacity to do so. Obviously, the margins must still work. It might be new ground that fits our model even though neither we nor our competitors are there yet. The business may be atypical for our industry like a large one-off project, a government contract or something that would bring recognition or prestige to the company. We'll at least try for it.
Black belts are trained to assess the threat and use their strengths and tools at hand to fight THEIR fight. They protect themselves while advancing on their opponents. They own the space around them and reach for opportunities.
Are you ready to be a black belt in sales?
Patrick Morin is a partner at BrightHammer, a team of experts that work directly with company leaders nationwide to develop and implement sales strategy, deliver targeted sales training and effect sales-oriented culture changes. Email him here, follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.