Guerrilla warfare is typically performed by a small force battling a larger, more highly equipped enemy. Guerrilla forces are typically comprised of small units that employ continuous raids, ambushes, and attacks on opponent’s weaknesses to put ongoing pressure on the larger force (most often psychological pressure to wear-down morale). In addition, the supports of local populations help sustain the smaller force and provide safety. Several examples of a guerrilla force succeeding against a much larger opponent are the Chinese Civil War, the Vietcong against the French and U.S., Castro’s Cuban revolution, the Sandista revolution, and jihadists fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Business leaders can adopt guerrilla strategy and tactics to business. The focus on keeping your competitor confused, leveraging alliances, and attacking smaller markets can deliver ongoing positive performance. The key is to adopt a flexible and agile mindset, avoid complacency from success, and leverage creativity for innovative solutions.
The use of guerrilla tactics can be used effectively within sales and marketing campaigns. Using indirect attacks are a key focus for these types of actions. For example, for a new product launch specific campaigns can be alternatively focused on different regions to create a continuous perception of ongoing marketing activities. In addition, as teams move from one region to another the perception of a much larger campaign can demoralize local sales teams with the perception of the inability to counter attack.
For example, your business is comprised of four regions, east, south, central and west. Week 1 you run local promotions in the east region. Simultaneously training teams can be working with southern retailers, while central retail locations are supported for open-houses and other specific events. The west region can run local promotions in print, cable, radio, and billboards to cast a “wide net” with minimal costs. These events can be alternated between all regions consecutively to ensure a sustained product launch, week after week. In addition, national campaigns can run in parallel to potentially keep incumbents off-balance and not aware of regional events. Retail margins can also be raised to provide higher profits to retailers for a set-time and to build trust and focus from retail staff to focus on your products in lieu of incumbent products. And of course, social media campaigns can be tailored locally for minimal costs.
A key to success is the creation of a competitive intelligence (CI) system to ensure ongoing, real-time market information is shared to employees. Throughout the ongoing events, marketing reactionary teams should provide ongoing feedback to corporate to determine where to adjust plans, what is working and not, to share with other regions, and provide constant feedback to teams on campaign progress. Utilizing market intelligence, deception, and surprise can keep the incumbent confused or better; ignoring the campaign until it is too late (the smaller force has gained key market share and mindshare). The ability to demoralize the competition can provide long-term benefits, as competitive sales staff loses confidence and marketing campaigns cannot anticipate regional attacks.
The ability to adjust plans as needed and use mobility and speed can efficiently leverage resources for optimal effectiveness. In addition, the use of alliances is another powerful tool teams should leverage. Using third-party partners to help support each campaign and expand resources for optimal effectiveness, can drive value for all firms and stakeholders.
These types of operations require strong up-front planning and clear definitions of objectives so all team members understand what is required. It is also recommended to “practice” and perform preliminary war games to build team cohesion and evaluate all plans to ensure any issues are addressed. In addition, teams should be given the freedom to develop regional attacks based on overall strategy and objectives. The ability to allow local teams to effectively develop and implement plans based on local needs, can ensure local market needs are met and provide team members with high morale to do what is needed. Developing creative and innovative plans to compete effectively against larger competitors can be rejuvenating for team members, and create excitement and esprit de corps.
As Mao Zedong famously said, “The enemy advances, we retreat. The enemy camps, we harass. The enemy tires, we attack. The enemy retreats, we pursue.”
Remember, business is not war, but you and your teams can develop fun and creative ways for market success. Just be open to ambiguity and different perspectives. And most importantly, clearly identify the incumbent’s strengths and weaknesses, and the types of sales and marketing plans used. The more you understand “your enemy” the stronger your advantage. Avoid a battle of contact and strive for winning through detachment.