Chalking the Competitive Playing Field

As a kid, I played tackle football in suburban back yards. Wool hats, boots, gloves, snow pants and coats were our gear. Steely Michigan winter skies hovered above us. Six to eight red cheeked guys, exhaling frozen breath, were divided into teams. Before we’d start, we would define the boundaries. Field contours differed, random variables were considered: trees, hedges, sheds, boat trailers, phone poles, above ground water pipes, sink holes and bird baths were negotiated: are they in or out of play? We called this ritual chalking the field; and it is the starting point in developing a profitable growth strategy.

Here is a context: intensely competitive market, your company is one of five competitors, commodity-like symptoms, insanely demanding customers and limited growth visibility. This feels like a nasty storm is brewing! What happens when the funnel cloud drops? We all become very tactical and internally-focused: seek shelter, hunker down, and get to the basement!  That’s what companies do too. Exactly the opposite of what they should do.  

When chalking a competitive playing field, your team mindset must be strategic and externally-focused. At first it’s nebulous. An overwhelming gravitational pull to be tactical is normal.  Market sizing teams need to chalk the field and collectively fight tactical tendencies. Defining the market is probably the most misunderstood activity in growth strategy development. Why? 

A market forms arounds competitive and customer forces. Specifically, similar constituted competitors, (substitutability) serving multiple customer segments. The way to define a market is by product category within a geographic region. For most, this is at the business unit or division-level. Multi-divisional companies serve several markets. A product category in Brazil is a market, the same product category in China, in most cases, is a different market. The key is granularity.      

Growth opportunities are identified and quantified at customer segment level. Delving down to a granular structure, from business unit to markets, then to customer segments, and down to buying criteria and downstream sources of influence, is the most effective approach to uncovering profitable growth opportunities.  Each can be rolled-up to a consolidated company view. Further, this construct can be viewed across product categories and geographic region.  We call this connecting the dots.  So, get the team together, take-off the wool hats and gloves and define the boundaries, it’s time for you, to chalk the field. 




Top 10 Apps Used to Build Ours in About a Year

Since the launch of Delvantage®, friends, colleagues, contacts have been asking me how we went from zero to launch in about a year.  

Apart from the obvious - solving a real problem for real companies, there were a lot of tools that helped us along the way.  

Here are the top apps & technologies we used to get where we are today.  Organized into two categories:

  1. Apps we used to collaborate as a team
  2. Apps & technologies we used to accelerate our development

Collaboration Apps:

Delvantage® utilizes all aspects of Google Apps for Work.  Email, Drive, and all Google Docs.  As a team, we execute and iterate quickly, and adopting the collaborative nature of document sharing has proved to be a game changer in getting things done.  Gone are the days of complex version management.  A file is always in it’s latest version, keeping the entire team in sync.

We use Jira to prioritize and manage our product development activities and Bitbucket for code deployment.  Even with a small distributed team, the need to manage and deploy our resources appropriately are critical.  Leveraging the collaboration tools of both applications has allowed us to always be aligned as a team.

Hubspot is used by Delvantage® to track and apply resources on the right sales opportunities.  Regardless of team size, setting the right foundation to build scale needs to start in the beginning.  We analyzed several starter CRMs and landed on HubSpot.  Its entry level pricing (free) for the level of features (high) made it a no brainer selection.   The simple to use sales pipeline capabilities has allowed our small team to engage with prospects efficiently without stepping on each others toes.

Slack has become the primary method for communicating inside Delvantage.  We don’t just use it for chats with in channels… although that has literally replaced 90% of our internal email usage.  Slack has become the integrated glue for all our tools.  BitBucket code deployment is announced via a Slack channel.  An update to a Google document is pushed out via Slack.  Slack is what is keeps us all in sync on the critical items that influence the growth of our business.  

Delvantage® uses to manage meetings with its simple to use, yet powerful conference call and screen sharing tool.  There are many providers out in the market, but made managing meetings seem more simple - through an App, anywhere on any device.  I’ve managed meetings from my car (pulled over of course) via my iPhone.  We use to onboard our customers and run internal and external meetings.  I especially love the feature of being called to join a meeting.  We will never be late again scrambling to remember conference numbers and pins!

Development Acceleration:  Apps & Technologies

Delvantage® uses to interact with our clients.  At the beginning, our use-case was simple.  Get in-app feedback from Delvantage® users to validate and drive product evolvement.  Our product has grown in scope and scale, and so has our use of Intercom.   We now use Intercom to drive our customer success with rich conversations with our users at the right time, in the right context.  It consolidates all conversations with our users allowing the Delvantage® team to support them with a great experience.


We use Typeform to build the forms that allow the Delvantage® application to collect voice of the customer data.  We quickly realized that the traditional user experience of online forms was antiquated and did not live up to the UX vision of Delvantage®.  When we saw the user experience Typeform delivered, across all devices, combined with the fact that they provide forms as a service, we ran (did not walk) to put Typeform to the test with our early beta customers.  When success followed, we realized Typeform allowed us to focus on our core capabilities of data research and data modeling.  While leaving the form building and its UX to the pros at Typeform.

Meteor  is an open-source, real-time Javascript web application framework written using Node.js that Delvantage® uses to develop its application.  From the early concepts of Delvantage®, we knew our clients would demand an experience that is engaging and reactive.  When our strategic development partner, Verys (,  saw the unique things we wanted to do, in the time frame we wanted to do them, they recommended Meteor.  The ‘Wow’ factor for us, is that versions of our application came to life incredibly fast with the most amazing user experience.  We leveraged, and continue to leverage their collection of curated packages to accelerate our development.

Delvantage® uses Modulus to host its application.  They have created specific support for Meteor that has made it simple for use to deploy, scale, analyze and manage our application.  I’m no IT expert, but Modulus has made it so simple for us to manage things like security, and scaling, that I’m considering adding DevOps to my official role designation :).

We use Compose as our MongoDB Development Platform.  They take care of just about everything - multinode clusters, automatic failover, disaster recovery, and security.  A bunch of stuff you use to rely on a fully resourced IT and DataBase admin staff to perform.  Capabilities that cost huge sums of cash to do on your own at scale.  The best part for Delvantange® and other startups, is that Compose let’s you take advantage of their scale affordably.  We were able to get up and running quick, with the confidence that we can scale as Delvantage® grows.  

Sneaking in an 11th App.  Elevio is a support concierge for the Delvanage® application.  It’s a simple idea (the best ones usually are), that solves a need every application has.  It was a no brainer for us to deploy.  Delvantage® shares valuable blog content to it’s users, FAQs, How To’s, and Key Concepts to help our clients go to battle and grow share in markets they compete in.  Elevio allows us to share our rich content and support our customers, exactly where our users need it.  We were able to install Elevio in our app in minutes, and create an incredible experience for our users in the process.  

Need Profitable Growth? Delve In.

Need Profitable Growth? Delve In.
“We’re flat, we’re stuck, we’re conflicted, and we need some help."

Through more than a hundred consulting engagements we’ve learned one basic truth about this situation: flat or falling growth is self-inflicted. Stevie Wonder can see this one coming.

Welcome to Connecting the Dots!

I'm so happy you're here! Delvantage has been almost two years in the making, and now YOU are here to learn something. That's all we ever wanted.  Seriously, Delvers (that's what we call ourselves here at Delvantage) including myself, Doug our CEO, and the crew are hoping you'll gain both strategic insight and some tactical "to dos" from our blog.  

We're creating Connecting the Dots to do just that, help separate the consulting strategy gibberish into actions. There's a lot of great (and even older, well-worn) strategic frameworks that bear another look, and we'll help you figure out what it means for your business, particularly if your company is in a very competitive market. 

The topics we'll cover will include business strategy, product management, sales and marketing execution, market sizing and analysis, and some case studies along the way. We'll probably also drop some stuff about our favorite hobbies, which almost always include wine or beer.

We want you to be involved in the conversation. Please contribute your thoughts about the topics, things you'd like to learn more about, and most importantly please share with us and our readers how YOU are killing it in the marketplace.

So go out and win at business ok? Then come check back since we've got some great content coming your way!