Why it’s Best to be David


Let’s consider one of the most famous mano a mano fights of all time. Not Ali vs. Frazier. Not even Vinny Jones vs. Paul Gascoigne. We need to go a little bit further back – to what was billed as the most lopsided contest of them all: David vs. Goliath.

You all know the story – and you all know the result.

The question is, what can David and his slingshot teach you about business in North Yorkshire? Or anywhere else come to that…

According to a new book by Malcolm Gladwell (of Outliers fame) the result of David vs. Goliath was a forgone conclusion. David was a certainty – quick, nimble, deadly accurate with his slingshot: Goliath never stood a chance. It was, according to Gladwell, the equivalent of someone with a sword coming up against someone with a Colt 45.

Where’s the business lesson? Right there. I spend a good deal of my time convincing Davids (TAB members) that they can compete – and win – against the Goliaths in their industry. And with every day that passes I become more convinced that not only can they win, they should win. Why? They’re more agile, they think better, they give better value and better service: above all, they care.

I would always choose a smaller, local supplier over one of the national household names. So why do I spend so much time convincing TAB members to go for it? Persuading them that they can win the contract?

The main reason is confidence – or lack of it. People simply don’t believe that they can beat the giants of whatever industry they’re in. ‘Why will they deal with a small company in a village outside York when they can deal with one of the industry leaders firmly based in the centre of London?’

I repeat: because you’re quicker, sharper, think more clearly, give outstanding service and you care. I would put that last point much more strongly, but this is a family blog.

David won because he saw the situation more clearly. He didn’t see the giant Goliath. He saw someone who was slow. Who could be attacked from distance. As Malcolm Gladwell points out, Goliath’s only hope of winning was to get his hands on David – and that was never going to happen.

David didn’t see a sword fight either. Sure, it had always been a sword fight in the past: but it didn’t have to be a sword fight in the future. If you were up against Goliath, a sling was just fine. In fact, a sling – accurate over a hundred yards – was far better than a sword.

And once David had seen the situation clearly, he was confident he could win. That’s how it is with my TAB members: very often it isn’t about their ability or the product they deliver, it’s about their confidence and their ability to see what really matters.

So if you find yourself cast as David against Goliath, what you should you do? I’ll look at exactly how to plan your campaign in a future blog, but for now…

• Go for it. If the business is worth going for then don’t let anything put you off
• Play to your strengths. You’ll have plenty of them – not just the ones listed above
• And play to Goliath’s weaknesses. What are the areas where you can deliver and a big company can’t?

Have a brilliant weekend: I’m convinced the business climate is moving more and more in favour of smaller companies and I’d be absolutely delighted to hear about your David vs. Goliath successes…

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4 comments

  1. simonjhudson · October 11, 2013

    Well, obviously I agree with the sentiment. But the other side of the problem needs to be considered. If you were the Philistines would you have picked a scrawny kid with a strip of cloth and leather or a hulking giant of a man with a bloody enormous sword, an arrogant self assured manner and a bunch of defeated enemies to bolster his reputation?

    It’s the same in business, the big guys with the flashy kit, polished presentations and client list as long as your arm both seem like the better bet and are a defensible choice if hauled in front of the boss if things didn’t go wrong.

    People rarely buy purely with their heads; they are looking to cover their bums if things go wrong, are swayed by rhetoric and marketing ‘tricks’ and often want a high-profile,convincing supplier so they can be associated with ‘the best’. Only afterwards do they find the big guy has eaten their lunch and done half the job before sleeping on the job.

    Of course this can be used to your advantage if you are a David (a quick delve into Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’ is instructional).
    You can polish up your act and seem bigger, more confident and better equipped – beating your enemy at their own game to get selected as the champion.
    Or, unlike David, you can get in really close before the fight. Make sure the potential customer knows you, likes you, believes in you and understands that small and agile beats slows and hulking. Make them want you, not just what you do. Educate them so they can make an informed choice. Protect their flank (from the boss) even before the fighting breaks out.

    As I said, people don’t make rational buying decisions; people buy from people and the small guys excel at not being an impersonal, unlikeable giant.

    Having some good stones and a great aim help too.

    • edreidyork · October 11, 2013

      That’s one of the most comprehensive and highest quality responses I’ve ever had, Simon – thank you!

      Really like the “get closer, earlier” approach – it’s what us SMEs should be brilliant at doing. Sometimes just takes some persistence/resilience!

  2. Justin Hyam · October 11, 2013

    A cracking blog Ed, just the tonic I need before getting into some Facebook marketing I’ve been putting off for weeks! (Could it be I was afraid of Goliath the computer lol!).
    As an example to support your case, let me give you my views on Pubs as a Publican. I’m sick to the back teeth of hearing some people in the village telling me “You’ll never compete with Wetherspoons and the big chains”. To a point they are right, but by the same token, why would I want to compete with them? It’s no secret that I loathe the Managed Pub Industry, but more importantly, I don’t want their custom.
    Now that sounds very arrogant, almost stupid from a landlord of a small village pub, who is struggling to compete in the big bad world of pubs. But below the surface, just like David, what are my strengths? All my food is cooked from fresh, I don’t use microwaves (like all the big chains), I can tell you where the steak on my menu came from, down to the very field if you really want to know. I challenge anyone in the village or who visits my pub to let me know if they have ever tasted a better pint elsewhere, or if they have ever seen such a good back bar offering for a small village pub.
    I firmly believe that the only way to survive in the Non Managed Pub sector, is to create a Premium Pub with honest pricing.
    Why compete with the big boys, when you can beat them at their own game. I don’t want all the local chavs, troublemakers and alcoholics…Wetherspoons can keep that crowd, that’s fine by me. I don’t view the pub as a place to churn out watery beer and processed food, if that’s what you want, go to bargain booze and a cheap supermarket.
    If you do however want a nice pint and some traditional home cooked food, then go to your local Non Managed Pub and enjoy the best that small companies can offer.
    When you hear of the best pub around, be it national or locally, it’s always a Tenancy or a Free House, and never one of the big guys.
    David always wins!

    • edreidyork · October 11, 2013

      Couldn’t agree more, my old friend! You keep slaying Goliath with your legendary burgers. It’s making me hungry just thinking about them!!

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