Nervous – Part II:
Q: I’m seeing a lot of anxiety and nervousness about the economy all around me. I am not sure I can thrive in this economic downturn. Do you have any thoughts on how to respond to this?
To my readers…
In the last post, I responded to this question based on the assumption that the questioner was a salesperson. If you missed it, click here to read it. I recommend that you read that before continuing on with this message so you have an understanding of the perspective from which I view this question. In the third post, I discuss more personal issues about managing your finances and household.
In this message, I’m going to respond to the questioner based on the assumption that the questioner is a business owner, manager, or executive.
So, to business owners, executives, and managers…
My area of expertise consists of sales, sales management, and marketing, so I am going to focus on lessons that I have learned in regards to the sales and marketing aspects of your business. I’ll leave the other aspects of your business to experts in those areas.
There is a season for everything, or so King Solomon said. Specifically, he said,
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace. (Ecclesiastes Chapter 3)
Translated into business terms, that means that there are good times when things are going well and it’s easier to make money, and there are bad times when it’s much more difficult to make money. During the good times, the wise manager focuses on accumulating cash and other assets and storing them up for the inevitable lean times, invests in new markets and territories, and acquires people who can be relied upon to contribute positively to the business.
But those are strategies for other times. Now, we are in a season of shrinking markets and lowered expectations. Time to shift to a different strategy.
How to Thrive in the Current Economic Downturn
It is a time for a fundamental strategy of ensuring that your sales and marketing assets are deployed as effectively as possible, and then working to improve the effectiveness of those assets. In other words, narrow down and more sharply focus.
In a practical sense, what this means is that you view this time as providing you a unique window of opportunity to cut the non-profitable elements of your sales and marketing system away, to pare down to a dedicated and competent core, to sharpen the focus of every element of your system, and then to expand your market share so that you can weather the hard times and be stronger when the economy inevitably turns.
1. Look at every aspect of your sales and marketing system through the lens of “cold-blooded business decisions.” Remember, your basic approach is to make sure your assets are deployed effectively, and then to make sure you have the most effective assets. Don’t let your ego prevent you from cutting out and cutting back. When you make prudent decisions to pare some elements of your sales system, don’t look at it as an admission of failure, but rather the exhibition of wisdom. Carefully consider these issues in this order:
2. Your markets. Over the past few years have you stretched into markets that are not profitable? Are they unprofitably siphoning time and talent that could be more effectively focused on your core markets? This is the time to recommit to the markets that you serve the best.
3. Your customers. Same thing here. You are probably losing money on half of your customers. Get tough, prioritize, and target your accounts based on the stability and likely growth of their business as well as the potential for profitable sales for you. Create less expensive ways of selling to smaller volume accounts. See Chapter Five of my book, Eleven Secrets of Time Management for Salespeople, as well as Chapter Seven of Transforming Your Sales Force for the 21st Century for specific directions on how to do that.
- Your salespeople. Bring the same attitude and mindset to your examination of your people. Who is profitable? Who is manageable? Which of your salespeople are serious about their careers and willing to invest in themselves and follow your direction? Pare out those who are not contributing.
- Now, invest in the development of your structure and your people. Now that you have the assets in place that you want, it’s time to make them as effective as possible.
- Examine the other structural aspects of your sales and marketing system. Structure refers to things like your compensation plan, your information systems, your alignment of accounts and territories, etc. (Again, see Transforming Your Sales Force for the 21st Century for specifics.)
Take the same attitude and carefully and methodically exam each piece of your structure. Look at this temporary economic downturn as a window of opportunity to jettison some of the policies and procedures that are vestiges of the past, and reconfigure your system for the next wave of future growth. Look at your inside sales department, customer service staff, marketing and sales administration, etc., with the point of view of reducing the unprofitable and focusing on the profitable.
Proactively invest in the development of your people. Chances are your salespeople have never been educated in how to do their jobs well. Chances are your sales managers have never been educated on how to manage salespeople. Now is the time to fix that. Investments in developing your people have a tremendous return on investment. Click here if you’re interested in more info.
4. Now, focus on gaining market share. Approach your good customers with sole-source proposals. Capture the business and lock it up by forming long-term contractual relationships with those customers who are solid and supportive.
Carefully pick and choose the prospects you want to approach, and focus your system resources on acquiring the right kind of new customers. Not every customer is the right customer, and not every prospect is worth your time.
5. Finally, keep your antenna sensitive to the opportunities to add key salespeople, managers, and executives. Many of your competitors will struggle to stay in business. Some good people will become available. The pool of available talent will swell. Look for opportunities to upgrade your personnel by picking off proven talent when it becomes available.
In all of this, you will have been guided by the two fundamental strategies: Make sure your sales and marketing assets are effectively deployed and make sure you have the most effective assets in place.