April 2005
A Relationship Story – The Underdog Advantage

The Underdog Advantage is a book that draws a fascinating business parallel with a world we all find ourselves wrapped up in every 4 years…politics. The primary principle is that there is no value in coming in second; unless you get 50.1% or better, you are nothing but a big loser. It’s a lot like winning in competition for business. Losing costs you in 3 different ways: first, you don’t get the business you wanted; second, you don’t recover the cost of pursuing it; and finally, you don’t get to build a future annuity with repeat business. Nothing good comes from losing.
The book suggests that good businesses must think like a political campaign does…you absolutely must win, and nothing else will do. You have to think like the underdog all the time, even after you move into a commanding lead. Some key principles include:

Relationships among all the members of your company must be focused on a common outcome – everyone must be pulling the same rope to beat the competition. When businesses get too big and people lose focus on the real goal, it’s time to break things down into smaller parts to keep them focused and thinking like underdogs.

Every dollar, and every minute of energy, must be focused on the business equivalent of getting votes…if spending does not make it more likely you will win in competition, then save the money or save the minute. When money or energy are spent without a direct link to the real goal of winning, it’s again a sign that bureaucracy is making decisions on its own.

You have to know who can realistically be expected to vote for you, or in a business sense, what business you can win. Potential “votes” are categorized as one of the following:

  • Hard Support
  • Soft Support
  • Undecided
  • Soft Opposition
  • Hard Opposition

Obviously, pursuing the hard opposition is a waste of energy. A surprising premise of the book is that not only is the soft opposition a waste of energy also, but so are the undecided. The primary reason is that the soft opposition and the undecided have no real relationship with you and little connection with your distinctions and your values. The undecided may say “yes”, but they are unlikely to ever become hard support because they are easily swayed (or bought) and are not true believers, friends, or partners.

The real objective is to increase the number of hard supporter clients. They are not only the most reliable source of repeat (and inexpensive) business, but they also serve as the evangelists to spread the word about your greatness without you doing (or spending) much of anything. The book’s premise is to focus all your attention on moving the soft support to hard support – think of this as the equivalent of the political campaign getting out the vote.

For me, this means first understanding my own values and focusing my personal energy on consistently living them, and then seeking relationships with people who share those values. Fortunately for my business, I am able to pass up relationships that disconnect in terms of values…but when the connection is a good one I just can’t take “no” for an answer.

Ask yourself if your business is really focused on winning without compromise. Start with knowing who you are and what you want. If everyone on your team is aligned on the same goal, and you are not wasting money or energy, you can’t be stopped. Stay an underdog!

Book Recommendation: The Underdog Advantage by David Morey and Scott Miller


Jeff Black
Principal Consultant
McDermott & Bull Executive Search