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You have been trying for years to implement a new competitive strategy, but you've only managed to nibble around the edges. Suddenly, you get an insight: Instead of approaching the market directly, you try an indirect plan of attack by offering something as bait to bring customers to you. Lured by your offer, the customers come. And they stay. Your new approach leads to success.

You have trotted out a Trojan Horse.

The Trojan Horse is a triumph of competitive strategy. Originally, it was a plan to give opponents a gift in exchange for access that, in the end, proved fatal to the opponent. Nowadays, though, it need only represent an exchange of information that offers leverage, which in turn lets you sell another product or service.

We live in a Trojan Horse world.

For business leaders the question is how best to win in such an environment. Answers can be found by revisiting the original story.

The Greek army invaded Troy to get back Helen, a Greek queen who had run off with a Trojan prince. The Trojans refused to return her, and so the Greeks tried to capture the city of Troy, but it was an impregnable fortress. The war went on for 10 years until finally the Greeks came up with a new idea. They evacuated their camp and pretended to go home. As a "gift," they left behind a huge wooden statue of a horse that concealed 30 Greek warriors inside. After a fierce debate, the Trojans decided to bring the horse within the city walls. They then celebrated victory. That night, while the Trojans partied, the Greeks exited the horse and opened the gates, allowing the entire Greek army to enter the city. The Greek forces proceeded to sack Troy, and Helen went home to her husband. Where 10 years of fighting failed, a clever ruse succeeded.

It sounds like a simple story, but it was a stroke of strategic genius that took effort to pull off. And there are important business and marketing lessons to be learned from it.

1. Bet on the right horse

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image of Barry Strauss

Barry Strauss is a professor of history and classics at Cornell University and an expert on leadership in an organizational setting. He's the series editor of the Princeton History of the Ancient World, author of six books (the most recent is The Death of Caesar), and a leading expert on ancient military history.