Business Offense vs Defense - Which Matters More?

growing your business Jan 29, 2024

For most of my life, I’ve played sports. When I was young, I tried basketball and soccer because that’s what most kids played and I had no baseline to know what I liked or didn’t like. Turns out, I didn’t like either of those much, probably at least partly because I wasn’t very good at either one. When I got a little older, I moved to tennis, which I did like, and then in high school I discovered I liked and was pretty good at running both track and cross country.

What I thought I had figured out was that I liked sports where I would sink or swim on my own merits. I had a hard time with the idea that sometimes I would have a good game but the team would still lose. I felt better about us winning even when I had a bad game, but still like I personally didn’t do as well as I should have.

But then I discovered hockey and I realized I did like team sports, at least this one, but I still definitely preferred being able to make a positive contribution by scoring and playing offense than I did playing defense and just preventing a bad outcome.

In hockey, everyone on the ice (and in the rink, growing up in Southern California I also played roller hockey which was a lot of fun too) plays some offense and some defense and the team only really succeeds when the team plays together.

Only the goalie is strictly defense and I was never the goalie. Aside from not wanting to be covered in pads and confined to a little area and needing to be able to do the splits, I definitely didn’t want to be only held liable for stopping shots and never being able to make them.

So how does this possibly relate to business? Well, I think a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners are like me - they like to go for the winning shots and would rather not think too much about playing defense.

But like in sports, you need both to win and really be able to do well and make it to the next level.

OK, so what is offense and what is defense in business and how do you make sure you’re taking care of both sides as a business owner? Here’s how I see it.

How to Play Offense and Defense in Business

Playing offense in business is what I think of as bringing in the sales. You score by gaining new customers, signing new agreements, and building up your revenue (points!). Your marketing is the game plan and the sales effort is the execution where you actually take the shot you set up.

Every business needs some offense to just stay in the game and have a way to keep the lights on every day. And some businesses only operate at that barely there level. 

Others of course are sales powerhouses and they are routinely able to rake in big sales and have powerful marketing engines that keep them at the top of their customers’ minds.

Nothing happens at all though until you make a sale - all the business planning and strategy sessions and MBA degrees in the world won’t make a business successful if there aren’t any customers around to spend their money buying whatever the business is hoping to sell.

Obviously therefore every business needs an offense. And to be honest, I think most people think this is the fun part and where they spend their time. Coming up with new marketing angles and closing sales meetings and new customer deals feels rewarding and tangible and exciting. It’s easy to spend all your time here.

The problem is a business can still fail even if it has sales. Defense in business the way I think of it is blocking the door (in a good way) to keep clients from leaving. Some sales are one and done but you still want that customer to be happy and refer you and say nice things to their friends and be ready to go right back to you if they ever need that thing again. Most sales happen more than once - or they could, if the customer is happy with their first experience.

Playing defense keeps the other team (your competition) from taking your sales. It means making sure you deliver on promises, provide a superior experience, give them great value, and every reason to keep coming back. 

If you have lots of sales but most customers are unhappy and don’t return you never get a chance to rest or build on what you’ve started - you have to keep hustling and trying to find new sales all the time to replace what you are losing.

A good business will focus on the whole game - bringing customers in but then making sure the entire experience is amazing so they keep what they fought hard to win in the first place. Just like sports, for me at least, this part is less exciting and less rewarding in the sense that it’s a little harder to get that instant gratification of a new sale or an over-the-shoulder top-shelf slap shot buzzer-beating goal (sorry, just reminiscing).

But if the goalie didn’t stop all those other people from leaving, we’d have lost the game instead of winning with that last shot. Likewise, if you don’t spend the time and energy on making the post-sale process great, the effort of the offense is wasted.  

The bottom line is both are important and the businesses that do best don’t just have a great process for getting new business but they also have a great operation for keeping the business they’ve got. 

And by the way, by having that in place, it actually makes the sales process that much easier! You don’t have to talk around bad reviews, unhappy word of mouth, or lack of references to prove you really are still a good choice.

To be the best business owner you can be and maximize your chances for success, make sure you are playing both sides of the ball (switching to a football analogy) with equal effort and energy and you will find yourself quickly rising to the top of your division and seeded number one for the big game! (OK, too far there for sure, but only to drive home the point!)

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