What Annie Duke taught me about competition

When I play poker, I have an advantage.

I mean, let me start by asking you, “What kind of advantage would you have if a world class poker player showed you not just the tricks of winning at poker, but gave you play-by-play instruction on how to keep ahead of all your competition?”

Well, on multiple occasions, Annie Duke schooled me while I supervised her giving lessons to high rollers at San Manuel casino.

But, being who I am, I never wanted to be a poker player. While listening to her explain strategy, and watching her with people, I learned. I learned a lot.

I learned that she is a caring person. And focused. And I also learned more about what I do – marketing.

Hearing her explain the play on the table, there were life lessons happening. From a business perspective, what if you could know which of your competitors were really doing well, and which ones were just full of crap? Well, she showed me the way to do this, and it’s just one important lesson I learned from poker legend, Annie Duke.

Business Poker

Just like a poker game, struggling businesses try to convince you of their success. After all, if their prospects knew that they were weak, they wouldn’t get the business. The stronger they act, the more likely they are to get the client. And if the competition believes they are successful and strong, they will respect them and work at staying competitive with them.

When you have a strong company, you can ignore competitors in your field. Or mimic them. It’s better for your competitors to think of you as nothing. Let them spend their time fighting other competitors, while you go about winning their customers and keeping yours.

So, here’s the big reveal. If you want to get a sense of how your competition is doing, ask them. If they brag. If they boast and tell you how successful they are, they just may be struggling. Shop them and look for their real tells.

But, if they respond that they’re “okay,” or that “business is puttering along,” then these may be the true winners. Watch them. Look at all aspects of their business.

When Annie asked why I paid so much attention to what she was saying, I told her. She laughed and told me how she sees business… “It would be ridiculous for a million dollar business to risk all of their capital on one investment.” But she also pointed out that changes when you have very little money, “Then you can risk it all.”

While this doesn’t really dive into specifics, it is a pair of pocket aces. And that’s where my expertise comes in. You can use my skills I’ve developed through years of watching and listening.

Annie Duke playing poker relates to business

Annie Duke starts with the obvious, “In poker, when you’re dealt a weak hand, you have two options – fold or stay.”

Take away to consider

Keep this in mind. When I asked Annie Duke what the best lesson she ever learned was. She quoted Paul Newman: “If you’re playing a poker game and you look around the table and can’t tell who the sucker is, it’s you.”

It’s very personal

Imagine it's someone you care deeply for when you're justifying business practices. In my head I sometimes see Grandpa Juan.

Imagine it’s someone you care deeply for when you’re justifying business practices. In my head I sometimes see Grandpa Juan.

I never fail to surprise myself when I catch myself saying “It’s not personal, it’s business.” When in reality all business is personal and emotions come into play at every touch point.

It has always been this way. When I was in high school and my history teacher, Mrs. Miller talked about how hunter-gatherers would trade from the early agrarian societies that was business in its purest form. A fair exchange based on value and trust. And in middle school, when I traded my peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a school lunch ticket, it was very personal.

Why is business now about a balance of power? Holding the “consumer” at arm’s length. Making the transaction between them and us. Brands and consumers. I refuse to accept the use of currency as an excuse. Go back just one generation and the local grocer knew that at a basic level.

When did people stop being people and become, traffic, customers, users, members, followers or a target audience?

The people I want to do business with, the ones I want to connect with and am hoping will respond are not just labels in my marketing vocabulary or a share of their wallets to be transacted with.

They are my friends, my family, and these people deserve to be treated like it’s personal. Because when I make a connection with them it becomes person. No matter how they rationalize their buying decision. It is personal to them and it should be to you.