Eight Don’ts to Help Your Business in 2003
If uncertainty is the best word to describe what the business environment was like in 2002, then it looks like we can expect a repeat performance in 2003. We can expect continuing erratic customer behavior, even higher customer expectations (is it possible?), escalating demands on our time and capabilities, and rapidly changing purchasing patterns. It’s everything that put us to the test in 2002 – only more.
When asked to describe the current attitudes of customers, a group of commercial printers reported, “They want everything instantly.” The same message is heard in every line of business.
This is the demanding environment we will find ourselves operating in during 2003. Under such strenuous circumstances, what’s the success strategy for the year ahead?
More than anything, perhaps the best answers are to be found in what we don’t do – in what we avoid rather than in what we choose to do. The following outlines practices that should be avoided.
1. Don’t Hope for the Best
Seeing the cup as half full instead of half empty is the mantra of business. Without optimism, where would we be?
It’s true; pessimism is often paralyzing, as we know so well. No one wants to be around naysayers, but this is only part of the story. According to Julie Norem, a psychologist at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., pessimism isn’t all that bad. In fact, she maintains that defensive pessimism can be a strategic tool if used correctly.
While optimists insist that they’ll win the order because of strong relationships with their customers, the strategic pessimist continues to ask questions: Have we covered all bases? Have we uncovered all relevant customer concerns? Are we blinded by too much self-assurance? What are we missing?
2. Don’t Wait for the Economy
This is what everyone did 20 years ago. The mentality at the time was, if we just wait it out, the economy will pick up and so will sales. We’ll get our fair share. That day has passed.
Today, if you wait for the tide to float your boat, you may find yourself left high and dry.
Operating in a changing and uncertain economic environment is no different. Waiting can be costly. Taking action is essential.
3. Don’t Get Distracted by Rumors
Slow times breed rumors – a lot of them. Rumors serve one purpose: of putting aside our problems for a short while. It’s like going to the movies to forget about our troubles.
Unfortunately, dwelling on rumors has a debilitating effect on job performance. It consumes valuable time, drains our mental energy and keeps us from putting full effort into the tasks at hand.
Most of us don’t have control over the company we work for, but we do have control over our own destiny. Those who spend time spreading rumors may be sending the message that they are not in charge of themselves.
4. Don’t Hunker Down
Many business owners and managers cover their heads and wait for the storm to blow over, hoping they will get lucky and remain OK. Maybe they will, but then again, chances are they won’t.
Pick up the pace during economic uncertainty; do not slow down. Do more – not less – particularly when it comes to marketing.
Many different companies have a track record for raising their investment in marketing during slow economic periods.
Why do companies like IBM, Dell and Gillette step up their marketing in an uncertain economy? They want the business, and they are not willing to let it go by default to the competition.
Whether it’s business-to-business or business-to-customer, the message is the same: Don’t bury your head in the sand. Figure out ways to do more.
5. Don’t Ignore Prospecting
Be aggressive in carefully identifying those customers you can best serve. Oftentimes, salespeople are advised to sell more to existing customers during slow periods. While increasing sales to current customers should always be an objective, trying to do it in a slow economy doesn’t make sense. Such a strategy suggests that the company hasn’t been doing a good job at prospecting.
Overcome slow sales with an active prospecting program. Be in front of prospects regularly and demonstrate that you understand their needs and are willing to cultivate the relationship. Most importantly, take follow-through seriously. Prospecting is an opportunity to show the customer what they can expect after the sale.
6. Don’t Go Into Hiding
Being bold and standing out from the crowd gets attention. Be alert for ways to gain visibility, like getting your name in the news as often as possible. It’s easier than you might think.
An example is a press release sent out by Dictronics Inc., a Needham, Mass.-based business equipment and telecommunications dealer, to the weekly Foxboro, Mass., Reporter newspaper in the hometown of Joe Brown, one of Dictronics’ employees.
The release announced the company was recognizing Brown for his 25 years as service manager. It turned out that someone saw the story and called Dictronics, looking for one of the products marketed by the company.
While the release on Joe Brown does not rank as hard news, it helped Dictronics make a valuable sale, all because the company raised its visibility.
7. Don’t Run From Risk
Now is the time to be daring, and even for taking appropriate chances.
Just when most commercial printers were avoiding spending money on presses due to slow business, one printer purchased the largest press in its 20-year history, a substantial investment for a small company.
Was the owner taking a chance? No question about it. Yet, once the new equipment was installed, the printer started producing more work. Overtime also increased, much to the pleasure of the employees.
The same printer also invested heavily in a computerized estimating system to meet the growing demand.
8. Don’t Get Miserly
Companies look at expenses even more closely during rough times. Eliminating unnecessary costs makes good business sense, of course. However, at the same time, making the wrong cuts can cause irreparable harm.
Staying in even closer touch with customers, actively cultivating prospects, and reaching out to new markets makes good business sense. This is particularly true when competitors are backing off and are keeping a low profile.
Seek Opportunity When Others Wait for Doomsday
In a sluggish and unpredictable economy, many companies behave as if the end of the world is around the corner; as if they are planning for doom.
Slow times are the best times to prospect and get acquainted with new customers, as well as seeing your current customers. Let people know you can serve their needs and want their business.
However, move away from asking, “Do you want to save money?” Those words are on every salesperson’s lips. This is the time when businesses need help.
Show prospects what you can do for them. Those who are out in front and look strong will get the business.
John Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He is also author of “The New Magnet Marketing” (Chandler House Press). Graham can be reached at (617) 328-0069 or via E-mail at J_graham@grahamcomm.com.
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