In battle, use the direct forces to match the enemy, and use the indirect forces to win the enemy. Thus, the person who is adept at using indirect forces, can use it in such infinite ways like the ever-changing forces and elements of nature and the ceaseless flow of water in rivers and streams. Chapter Five, Sun Tzu Art of War
In the first sentence, Sun Tzu mentioned to use direct force to match the enemy and using indirect force to win the enemy. And in the next few sentences, he mentioned that the combinations of these two types of forces are infinite and its interactions and can produce wonderful results. So how do we apply this wisdom into business?
Direct forces in war would be analogous to the quality (or price) of your services or products in business. The indirect forces in war would be analogous to the intangibles like branding (the feelings you want your consumer to be associated with when they use your product or services.) or service level in business. Now, quality and price can be easily mimicked but it is the intangibles that are difficult to replicate, it usually gives a business a sustainable competitive edge over his rivals and allows differentiation between products and services easily thus the reason why I called it the indirect forces.
For instance, if you want a nice meal with romantic ambience, would you go to Burger King or McDonalds? If you want cheap food, would you want to go to a high class restaurant with dedicated waiters? What makes you prefer a certain restaurant over others when what they serve to you are basically steaks?
Let us further the restaurant example. Imagine there two restaurants, they serve good sirloin steaks, beef from Kobe, extremely good gravy and same pricing. But one is dirty and the other is extremely clean, almost to the extent of dust free. Which restaurant would you go to? Note here is that it does not cost much to have a clean toilet in your restaurant, but think of the immense attraction you would have on hygiene-conscious clients? So this is one way of using indirect forces to win over your rivals in business.
With that in mind, you can see that there are infinite areas of applying direct and indirect forces in your business. Use direct forces to replicate what your rivals are having and use indirect forces to differentiate yourself from your rivals.
By having different combinations of using direct and indirect forces, you can have infinite strategies for your business.