Business Strategies for Your Cinderella Story…

We all know the story of Cinderella.  Originally written in 1697 by Charles Perrault, it is the inspiring fairy tale of the underdog winning.  Though, it was the movie magic of Walt Disney’s animation studio in 1950 that ensured Cinderella would become one of the most popular fairy tales of all time.

Every March, NCAA basketball provides one of the most anticipated events in all college sports where over the course of a month, a 64 team tournament bracket eventually crowns one final championship team.   Whether or not you’re a college basketball fan, it is hard to resist the excitement of the tournament, especially the first weekend.    One of the reasons why is because each year there are always upsets, and upsets launch Cinderella Stories.  A team expected to lose emerges as this underdog defying all the odds as they take out their higher ranked opponents.  They become the Cinderella Stories of the tournament.

Traits of a Cinderella Team…Are any of these in your business? 

There was an interesting article recently posted on by Brian Mull about the traits of a Cinderella team.  The eligibility criteria required the teams had to be seated 11th or worse and you had to advance to at least the Sweet 16 (from 2002-present).  This actually eliminated several teams we often think of as Cinderella stories.  Two notable exclusions were Davidson (with Steph Curry) in 2008 and Butler in 2011, they were seated 10th and 8th respectively.

Once the criteria established the eligible teams, they dissected these true Cinderella Stories and uncovered three traits they all possessed.    Business and college basketball certainly isn’t the same thing, but looking at these traits from a business strategy perspective they stand up pretty well.  So here are a few ideas to consider if you aspire to be part of a Cinderella Story.

The 3 traits…

1) An Elite Offense is Important.    In basketball, the Cinderella teams must be able to score at a high level.  In business, looking at it from an offensive vantage point, what is your sales and marketing strategy?   Do you have one?   Is your business proactive or reactive?  Defensive strategies are “wait and see”, they spend a lot of time watching the competition and then responding.  Offensive business strategies are proactive, pushing new ideas.  Companies with Elite Offenses embrace continuous improvement, seek out the latest technology, and are constantly looking for opportunities to gain a slight edge.  Their actions may even be considered overly aggressive at times, but they never rest on their laurels.   Does your business have an Elite Offense?

2) Winning the Turnover Battle is Imperative.   A turnover in basketball is simply when one team takes possession of the basketball from the other.    However, in business, there are two Turnover Battles that must be won, customer turnover and employee turnover.

Customers.  Even the best companies make mistakes.   Did you know that Blockbuster, the one-time movie rental giant (now bankrupt) turned down multiple offers to buy Netflix?    People in the sales profession often gain some of their biggest accounts when a competitor makes a minor mistake, opening the door of opportunity for them.   We all make mistakes, but in a competitive environment, those that make the least will win the customer turnover battle. Are you focused on keeping your customers happy?  Are you tracking a Net Promoter Score?

Employees.  If two companies offer a similar product or service and one has constant high employee turnover and the other has little or no turnover, it’s no contest, the latter will outperform long-term.  Employee longevity and engagement matter, a lot!  The higher the skill level requirement, the more significant this metric becomes.  It is almost impossible to scale and grow a business if you’re constantly replacing employees.   If you’re not winning the employee turnover battle, check out these articles for some great suggestions:  Employee articles.

3) Experience is valuable (and shooting, too, sort of) The powerhouse college basketball programs are notorious for assembling teams with “1 and done” players.  They play one year of college basketball and enter the NBA draft.   But the Cinderella teams mostly are teams that have upper classmen leading the way.   In Mull’s study all but 3 of the 23 team’s leading scorer had at least 3 years of college experience.   In business, this obviously ties back to the previous trait of employee retention.   You must have experienced people so when opportunities present themselves you are ready to respond and respond quickly.

But it was Mull’s  “and shooting, too, sort of”  comment that really had the message that applied to business.  You can have all the experience in the world on your team, but if you aren’t out there taking shots you have zero percent chance of becoming a Cinderella story.   You have to take shots in business; be out there looking for the opportunities and going after them.   The “sort of” comment is, you would think the Cinderella teams all had sharpshooters hitting 3 pointers at will, but that was not the case.   It was more about simply shooting, doing the little things right…making layups and free throws.  Not missing opportunities.

Experienced businesses have the fundamentals down, they do the little things right, they are prepared when opportunities present themselves.   When the opportunities for a shot arise, the probability is high they will make the shot because they are prepared.   Does this sound like your company?

What about your business?  How would you grade yourself on possessing these three traits of past Cinderella NCAA basketball teams?   Does your business have the potential to be a Cinderella Story?  Have you ever been a part of a business that you would consider a Cinderella Story?   As always we love to hear your comments in the space below.

Chris Steinlage Kansas City Business Coach