Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t (Issue 626)

In which we are encouraged to build market share by focusing on first on small targets rather large.

There’s something thrilling about feeling the same pull of wind in sails as our fellow citizens did in 1800. For Father’s Day, my family treated me to a delightful two-hour cruise from Salem, Massachusetts on the Schooner FAME , a full-sized replica of a 70’ gaff-rigged fishing schooner turned armed privateer when the war of 1812 began. (http://www.schoonerfame.com).

Privateers were privately owned vessels under license from the U.S. government (itself unable able to fund and manage a navy of a size needed to take on the dominant 1812 English navy), armed and operated to capture and sell English ships for profit. While privateer captains could attack any English ships they chose, they preferred to attack lightly armed and unguarded English cargo vessels rather than heavily armed English navy warships.

Hard to believe, when we sailed on her replica, that the original FAME was successful. She looks tiny – 70 feet long, neither big enough or scary enough to capture much of anything.

Yet, according to the FAME’s web site, she was the first American privateer to bring home a prize and she captured 20 more vessels before wrecking on Bay of Fundy rocks in 1814, trapped between English warships and coast.

(The English navy had figured out the game and started protecting more merchant ships. However, they couldn’t cover EVERY ship and other privateers continued to “hit ‘em where they weren’t,” capturing English merchantmen from Nova Scotia to the Chesapeake Bay until the end of the war.)

We sometimes face similar challenges when we’re opening up a new market or expanding from a small share: Our competitors are large and well funded and we start with small market recognition, small market share, small marketing budget, small sales force, small support team, or small whatever.

We can learn from FAME’s tactics, focusing our efforts on prospects of a size we can “capture and bring home” left insufficiently protected by our competitors rather than focusing on more heavily guarded BIG prizes likely to offer significant resistance.

If we are successful, we’ll attract competitors attention, of course, and they will begin to guard their accounts more broadly. However, we’ll have built our momentum and given ourselves time to build, launch, and engage ‘the enemy’ strategically with more substantial forces (as did the US government with the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” in the War of 1812), increasing our chances of victory.

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