Business Lesson from Wimbledon Finals 2009?

What an amazing Wimbledon Men’s final it turned out to be between Andy Roddick and Roger Federer. An epic battle of 4+ hours, 77 aces, 77 games, the fifth set alone lasting 90 minutes. Roddick brought his A+ game to try to beat his arch nemesis Federer who had beaten him 18 of the previous 20 times they had met. But alas after 77 games, 27 aces, holding serve until the very last game, winning 83% of his first serve points – the result ended up to be the same – Federer won it all. I felt bad for Roddick because he gave it everything and still came up short.wimbledon

As I was thinking about the entire match over the course of the afternoon, something dawned on me as a business lesson from this finals. It is every tennis player’s dream to win at Wimbledon. But not many do, it is a lot harder. But then there are tons of other tournaments where the competition is not that tough but with a lot of winners. This is where I thought businesses could learn from – which dreams to chase, where to play, where to spend the energy and time etc.

Imagine that you sell sales automation software. The market is huge since every company on the planet can possibly make use of it. Let us assume that you have $100,000 sales and marketing budget. Would you want to spend all of it in trying to win the “big fish” account – a Fortune 500 company trying to replace their current sales automation software? The stakes are high, competition is stiff with a lot of bigwigs with a lot of money in the fight. You could transform your company overnight if you win it all – but should you play? The question comes to something simple – what are your chances of winning? Are you better off playing in the smaller “tournaments” and building a strong customer base before trying to play on “center court” in the biggest tournament of your market? Will you survive if after all the effort you end up like Roddick – with no Wimbledon title to show? (Andy Roddick is still an awesome player who still has a lot to show since he has won 27 singles titles, $15M+ prize money).

The key is “focus” – where do you want to spend your money, time and energy? It sounds simple right? No. It is very easy to try to be everything to everyone and be nothing to anyone. It is easy to go chasing after the biggest deal on the planet and come up with nothing. It is easy to try to solve a problem more than you can chew and fail completely. A local company that recently shuttered its doors comes to mind – it (I am withholding the name) was launched with an ambitious goal of  developing a cross-channel commerce platform that would allow large retailers to integrate and manage content and sales across the Internet, catalogs, and physical stores – a novel idea, but with one problem – they had just one customer (its parent from whom they had spun-off) sign up on the vision – eventually the company folded when it could not deliver. TechCrunch report said “In retrospect, the warning signs were everywhere: 1) big company spin-off; 2) raised way too much money for a series A round; 3) reliance on that same big company as its main customer (and as an investor)”.

So everytime you are told by sales that this is “the” deal – ask about the stakes. What if you don’t win after all? Will you survive? Do you have eggs in other baskets? It could be your biggest win but could be your death knell as well. It may just be OK to say “No” to play and spend your energy in the smaller “tournaments” and notch up wins. Business after all is never a sprint, it always is a marathon.

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