In 2004, I started working for Borders Books & Music and quickly worked my way up to managing a store with an annual volume of $5 million. I witnessed a lot of ups and downs in my time before leaving in 2008 and the company going out of business in 2011. The biggest downs came from Borders’s complete lack of strategy.
They would choose a direction and then change it without giving it time to prove itself. They would give more autonomy to store managers and then they’d take it away, only to give it back a few months later. They would focus on ecommerce and then try to drive more traffic to physical stores. They’d focus on the quality of titles over discounting and then issue more coupons than people knew what to do with.
At any given time, Borders would be pursing multiple conflicting “strategies.” Their managers felt disempowered, their employees felt directionless, and even their customers would wonder aloud what was going on.
When bankruptcy came, no one was surprised.
Making any decision—from who to serve, to what color to use on your website, to what price to charge—about the direction of your business can be difficult.
A lot of business owners I see struggling are resisting the decisions in front of them. They’d rather play both sides, try something new, or continue to research and delay the inevitable need to commit.
When you’re not making firm decisions and taking the action those decisions inspire, your business will suffer. I’m sorry to say, but your business might even end up like Borders did.
Without strong strategic decisions, your customers will feel lost, your products or pitches will feel unfocused, and the purpose behind your business will be unclear.
Decision-making is what business strategy is all about. If there are no decisions, there is no strategy. If there’s no strategic decision-making, there is no success.
Your business won’t survive without a strategy.
When a strategy succeeds, it seems a little like magic, unknowable and unexplainable in advance but obvious in retrospect. It isn’t. Really, strategy is about making specific choices to win in the marketplace.
— Roger Martin, Playing to Win
Creating a business strategy that breaks through the noise is about declaring “yes” to some things and “no” to others. And, as you might guess, the yesses and noes aren’t about right and wrong.
Take a look at Toms. Now, Toms has sneakers, sandals, platform wedges, and all other manner of shoes. They also have a whole marketplace of goods by other companies. But in the beginning, Toms sold one style of shoe. They made a decision to go to market with one style and focus their marketing on the One for One campaign.
Toms decided to be a give-back-first company instead of a shoe company.
If they wanted to be a shoe business, they would have gone to market with more than one kind of shoe.
Toms decision wasn’t a question of right or wrong, good or bad. It was a question of values, preference, skill, strengths, and effectiveness.
Now, consider Amazon. Amazon has made the decision to be a logistics company, not a bookseller. They may have started by selling books but Jeff Bezos put the most investment into distribution logistics from the get go. Now, they can sell almost anything and ship it to you in 2 days.
Even the development of the Kindle fits this strategic decision. Want a book? You can start reading it immediately.
If Amazon wanted to be a bookselling company instead of a logistics company, they would have invested more initially in connecting readers or helping you find your next book.
Look at your own field. What do some people say “yes” to when you’re firmly a no? What do you see as the conventional way to do things and how would you prefer to do it differently? How have the decisions leaders in your field have made affect the way their businesses are perceived?
What can you decide to focus on that puts your business in a category of one like Amazon or Toms?
Making a decision to go a different direction, to make a choice other than the default, is a strategic decision.
It puts your business in a category of one. When based on your strengths and unique effectiveness, it makes your business more compelling. Making a strong and interconnected set of choices is the first step toward success.
Other strategic decisions are who you’re going to serve, how you’re going to connect with them, what price point you want to charge, how you’re going to package & deliver your offer, or what emotions you want evoke when people use your product.
The more intentional you are with the decisions you make, the stronger your strategy.
Now, not every strategy works—but to even have a chance at success, your strategy needs to be based on focused, intentional decision-making.
Every decision you make is an opportunity to put your product or business in the best possible position for success.
If you resist making decisions, you resist success. It’s as simple as that.