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Strategic Positioning for Your Best Year Ever

While enjoying sweet success as you close your books for the year, it’s time to turn your attention to even greater success next year.   There is no better time to think about strategic positioning than at the beginning of a new year. When it comes to strategy, there are seven success factors that can turn any ordinary petroleum business into an extraordinary business with extraordinary profits. Let these proven strategies thrust your company to its next level of success.

Success Strategy #1 – Vision beyond incremental improvement.  Do you want rocket thrust rather than gentle gas pedal acceleration for your company in the coming year? Then get beyond incremental! Serious success is not about incremental improvements. Starbucks didn’t get to be where they are today by thinking 10% growth per year. Can you imagine in 1971 when Starbucks was founded, that anyone would believe they would crave an $8.75 cup of coffee and would stand in line for it, and in fact the longer they waited the better they liked it because it was specially made for them, and you’d need an MBA just to master the vocabulary to order it, and there would be over 10,000 locations across the globe by 2006 and that was just the start of their real business plan? Someone at Starbucks definitely visioned beyond incremental improvement, don’t you think?

In essence, they took an industry not dissimilar to petroleum – a mundane, ordinary product cheaply available everywhere and turned it into an art form. So what does Starbucks have to do with you? Everything! Let yourself dream about your company and make it a BIG dream. Don’t settle for incremental ideas.

Success Strategy #2 – Defy industry norms. Great strategists think beyond what is “normal” for the industry. While everyone was trying to make a better pizza, Dominos, which started with one store in 1960 in a University neighborhood, recognized a different customer with a different need resulting in a totally different market position. Their customers, college kids who frequently shouldn’t drive at the time an urge for a pizza hit them, couldn’t care less about taste – they just wanted fast. Bingo – food delivered in 30 minutes or less was what to sell, not gourmet pizza. A business friend of mine teases that their customers probably ate the box after they ate the pizza (remember this was in the 60’s!).

In order to defy industry norms, the best place to begin is by listing industry norms. Get out a yellow pad and think through everything that is taken for granted in our industry. Force yourself to keep going until you get 100 to 150 on your list. This may be the most important thing you ever do. Once your list is complete, scrutinize each item looking for what you could do to break out of the ordinary and mundane. If you get stuck, try thinking about the direct opposite of each industry norm.    Let your imagination go wild.

Success Strategy #3 – Use market positioning for power.  One of the most dramatic examples I’ve seen of powerful market positioning in the last few years is Subway. Who could imagine anyone in corporate America repositioning a common calorie laden deli sandwich into a weight loss product? Wow! Even if the idea came from Jared, it still took the Subway leadership team to recognize the opportunity and bring it to the marketplace. The idea is ingenious. And of course, once the customer gets in the deli, my guess is many still order the fat oozing, high calorie sandwich with chips, but think of the market positioning that has the power to get new customers in the door in droves.
While reviewing your norms list, think through how and why people currently buy from you. Could you dramatically alter your unique selling proposition? Could it catapult your business to a new level of success?

Success Strategy #4 – Be systems focused. Every business is a myriad of systems working together to produce a profit. By identifying and scrutinizing each broad system, you can gain huge insight and advantage in the marketplace. Take Ford who is regularly noted for their assembly line manufacturing system, but did you know they also started the dealership system? Someone at Ford realized that if you could mass produce a car, you also needed to be able to sell it to the masses and came up with the dealership marketing system which revolutionized automobile selling.
Begin by identifying each of your present systems, then question whether by adding, subtracting, or modifying each system you have the potential to seriously drive up your profit.

Success Strategy #5 – Use process change. Again, I’m not talking about simply tweaking or automating processes, I’m talking rethink your processes. Let’s look at the auto industry again, a great innovator of process change. Let’s continue to look at their sales process rather than manufacturing. With customers getting smarter and smarter about automobile sticker prices, auto dealerships changed their selling process to reverse shrinking margins. Once a buyer selects a vehicle, the dealer now has the “after-the-sale” guy. It’s his job to get you to add on every product, service and extended warranty you just turned down from the first salesman. For instance, if you skipped the undercoating, he’ll now convince you that your feet will stick through the floorboard in two years if your don’t pay the extra $2,000 for the undercoating, and you would look way cooler with the big chrome wheels, etc, etc.   By the time the add-on, after-the-sale specialist gets through with a customer, the profit on that vehicle has sky-rocketed and if that salesman is really clever, the customer is still happy with their new vehicle.

So what does a car sales process have to do with your company? You could have a similar opportunity for enhanced profit in any of your processes just waiting to be discovered. Examine your processes. Are there any changes that could double or even triple your average per-sale profit or dramatically reduce costs? Again, don’t get stuck in the “we only sell a gallon of gas” mentality, even if all you do is dealer supply through common carriers. Someone will figure out how to make more profit from your customer even if you don’t.

Success Strategy #6 – Keep macro and micro focus. One of the interesting qualities of hugely successful entrepreneurs who turned ordinary businesses into extraordinary businesses with extraordinary results is their focus. It’s both macro and micro. They see the big picture – the markets, the positioning, the systems, the processes at a macro level, but they also pay attention to the details. Using only a broad brush isn’t their style. While strategically steering the course of the ship, they make sure the brass is gleaming on every deck, and every square inch of the engine room is working meticulously.

If you haven’t spent much time in the “trenches” lately, schedule that time right now. You can gain great insight by jumping on a truck to ride along with a driver, visiting a remote store location, or spending an hour in the warehouse. Leave no stone unturned. The best of the best are actively interested and engaged in the details.

Success Strategy #7 – Be Immune to Criticism.  Highly successful entrepreneurs think and act so differently from everyone else that those around them constantly remind them how nonsensical and idiotic their ideas are. Think Walt Disney or dare I even mention Sam Walton? When you take a strategic course that has the power to produce enormous growth, when you step seriously outside industry norms, when you totally reposition your company for market power and then dramatically change tried and true processes, you will take a lot of heat. That heat will rise up from employees, suppliers, creditors, friends, relatives — even your spouse.

Fortunately, the more crazy people think you are, likely the better your idea, so stick with it. For inspiration during the toughest times, imagine the geek that started e-bay just so his girlfriend could trade beanie babies. Or how about drop out Bill Gates when he was building computers in his garage? I’m sure he listened to, “you’ll never amount to anything” or “when are you going to get a real job?” Once you’ve hit on a strategy you know in your gut is right, listen to the small voice inside that keeps saying “killer idea,” not all the loud voices outside telling you why it won’t work.

By thinking and acting outside of industry expectations, you will reposition your company for terrific success. This year, you can gain powerful strategies to drive your profits and cash to new highs at my Focus on Competitive Advantage workshops only for petroleum companies. I’ve invited “outside the industry” leaders to inspire and provoke you to fresh strategic positions. For more information, visit

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