Fighting above Your Weight Class: Small Companies Can Turn Their Size into an Advantage When Competing against the Heavyweights in Their Industry

Article excerpt

When I looked at the sign-in sheet in my dream client's lobby, I spotted the name of our competitor. The largest firm in our industry. And not just the largest in the United States--the largest in the world. This company had the name recognition we didn't have. It had the money and resources that we didn't have. Its client list was the envy of the industry. And it was on a roll, winning one new client after another.


Representatives of this corporate heavyweight poured out of my dream client's boardroom as I finished signing in. That polished, professional A-team came to wrap up an account worth a couple of million dollars annually. I smiled at these competitors as they walked out. They didn't smile back. They were above even acknowledging our presence. Clearly we were no threat.

Two months earlier, when we were first invited to compete, 11 companies pitched for the business. After the client's first-round interviews, only five remained. After the second round, my team and I represented one of two competitors still in the running, and we were fighting way above our weight class.

As we entered the boardroom to present for round three, we had brought nine people, although we were supposed to bring five. I told the client's 14 stakeholders that only five of us would be staying. The four members of my team who would leave were the actual managers who would work with the client's team on a daily basis. I told the stakeholders that while I would personally oversee their account, these four would do the heavy lifting. I had the managers introduce themselves quickly, share how excited we were to have the opportunity to be of service and explain what they would do for the client.

Our global competitor had brought its A-team from corporate. We brought the people who would actually serve the client. That was one way we defined ourselves with this dream client. But there are other ways of standing out that will help you beat your gigantic competitor. ...

A Winning Fight Plan

FIRST: Adjust your mindset. Before we address the strategies and tactics necessary for fighting above your weight class, we have to deal with mindset. You must believe you can win. You have to believe you deserve to win because you can do a better job serving your dream client than anyone else--including Megacorrxration Inc. You have to believe that size doesn't matter, that bigger isn't better, that better is better. With that accomplished, you can move on to two key strategies and five specific, proven tactics.

STRATEGY: Fight using your strengths. Everyone knows the story of David and Goliath. Goliath is bigger, stronger and tougher. If David goes toe-to-toe with Goliath, he's dead. Because his foe is too strong to take on conventionally. David changes the game so the odds are in his favor. He is small, agile and highly competent with a sling and a stone. Before Goliath closes the distance between them and uses his greater size and strength to destroy his smaller foe, David brings him down with the rock he never saw coming.

Small companies can take business from a larger, better-financed and better-known competitor by fighting where they are strong and the opposition is weak.

STRATEGY: Avoid the competition's strengths. You don't want your dream client to make its decision based on size, number of employees or offices, or global footprint--where your competitor has a big edge. Ignore those topics in your pitches and instead shift your dream client's decision criteria to factors that favor you and make your competitor's size its weakness.

Then use five giant-killer tactics. Now you're ready to deploy the following five tactics to convince your dream clients that your team will produce knockout results--because of (rather than in spite of) your company's size.


As companies grow larger, they increasingly adopt formal processes to cope with their size. …