Winning vs. Beating the Other Guy

Sayantan Datta
3 min readSep 19, 2023
Stop chasing. Make your own play and win!

I have worked in and around the sales function for most of my working life. And I have seen quite a few sales teams succeed, and about 10x of that number fail. One of the key differences between these outcomes, is a passion for what you sell. And, the expression of this can be seen most often in the chasm between a desire to win, as against a desire to beat the other guy. And the difference is not just semantic. When an organization is passionate about innovation and the product they sell, the focus is always on getting better and doing things differently. This is because doing something better, and distinct compared to those around, eventually end up in a winning proposition.

Beating the other guy is about falling to the level, or matching the proposition of the other guy. It usually means that the innovation and creativity is someone else's forte. It makes the aspiring winner, a very good "me too". Maybe bigger and better, but a "me too".

Winning, on the other hand, is about building what you believe is the best solution, product, or offering, specific to a context. It exhibits confidence and conviction to walk away where your proposition does not find purchase instead of compromising the competitive advantage.

More often than not, in designing sales strategies, one is faced with this choice. Defeating the other guy, when it becomes a habitual approach or the default win-strategy, tends to dilute the core competitive advantages of the organisation. If you make the best tasting cookies in the world, trying to grab the market share from fringe and low price competition for revenue growth, is dilutive to the competitive advantage. It takes focus away from building on a winning brand and elevating the taste profile of the consumers to chasing down fragmented channels to reach a remote last mile.

Over time a sustained "beat the other guy" strategy also leads to the loss of the capability and capacity to innovate. This is because, following this strategy makes organizations into habitual copy cats, always striving to climb the ladder to an elevated playing field instead of owning the play. Innovation becomes a practice of plagiarism - let's do what the other guy is doing. This also leads to the whole organisational intellect getting absorbed in trying to play catch up, leading to a perpetual dearth of capacity to innovate outside the realms of 'following someone else'.

Everyone wants to win. But a short sighted view of winning the next small thing is the equivalent of the cliche 'win the battles but lose the war' in sales strategy. What’s worse, competing organizations soon figure this out and set out traps that soak up capacity and focus to ensure that your eyes are on the small prize while they whack away at the bigger pieces of the pie.

The best ways to spot organizations who are focussed on “beating the other guy” as the strategy is to look for (I) lack of a focussed vision in what they offer, (II) excessive focus on relationships, (III) a portfolio that is very wide but lacking depth, (IV) top-heavy organisation structure, (V) flat win-loss ratios, and (VI) a focus on marginal differentiations built on size rather than quality, e.g. # of pending patents, # of markets served, etc.

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Sayantan Datta

Born in Kolkata. Works for corporate overlords. Writes a poem, once in a while. Read a lot. Introvert. Published a book. Wife, no kids, loves food and beer.