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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Executing an Up Market Strategy During a Down Market

A lot has been written about this subject, and of course there is a lot of marketing hype about it all over the internet. I don't know why, but down markets seem to bring out all the hucksters and people who have no difficulty feeding on the desperation of others. The claims I have seen are so blatantly unbelievable that they boarder on ridiculous. My greater concern is that like having billboards clogging our highways, after a while we become numb to it, and that worse yet we may not even notice a legitimate offer, a professional approach because it is not loaded with false statements and eye grabbing claims.

Let's face it. Doing business in today's economy is hard. Most salespeople are not closing a lot of orders, business volume is down, new customers are not showing up and existing customer are more demanding, require more concessions, etc. To make matters worse, most companies have cut their overhead and staff to the bone to stay viable. Even if you created a "war chest" for times like these, the least likely thing you will do is use the funds for anything but survival.

Yet... in the face of this we are constantly bombarded by articles and headlines that claim they have the secret formula for growth in this economy. This brings to mind the vision of the old snake oil salesman's pitch (for those who don't remember the pitch there is a good definition in Wikipedia or you can even have fun and watch the Disney movie "Pete's Dragon"). It is no wonder that salesman like these were tarred and feathered and run out of town. Unfortunately, a number of people bought the promise before the town folks acted.

In today's world we read claims like "5 Ways to Increase Sales in a Recession", "How to Grow During a Downturn", "How to Tap Untapped Markets", and the list goes on (I followed the same pattern in my title just to get your attention to prove my point). Did it work?

Now, don't get me wrong there are businesses that thrive during this kind of economy. Businesses that are aligned to address the problems that customers are having today will thrive, but they usually fall in the category of helping people and companies deal with the failures that happen during a recession, like bankruptcy attorneys, firms that help people sell their home in a down market, firms that are able to buy distressed companies and properties, etc. and of course all the charlatan and hucksters that come out of the woodwork in times like these. The fact is that for most companies that offer normal services and products, to accomplish this level of change in spite of the current environment requires something just short of a miracle.

But, I will be the last to say that this is not possible, because I have been in the business of accomplishing some pretty impossible tasks for most of my career. But Thomas Edison was right "Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration". Something tells me the formula is more like 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration today. Not because it takes less inspiration, but because it takes more perspiration today. Remember though, even at these odds are difficult, success is still possible.

To be part of the small percentage that succeeds in a down market you need some very different skills, attitude, and leadership, not to mention you need a committed, accountable team behind you if you're even going to stand a chance of turning lemons into lemonade. So here is my real life experience at how to beat the odds in both the inspiration and perspiration category.


Be observant, look for competitive openings; be honest about your position in the market place and what you would need to do to change it.
Put yourself in the consumers mind, look for products and services that are moving faster today than before.
Engage everyone you can in your pursuit, this is not the time to think that the idea has to be yours to be of value.
Put together different combinations of products and services. Specialization is a luxury for good times.
Educate your entire team; expand the knowledge of your entire organization. Make sure everyone is cross trained. Some of the greatest ideas have come from someone doing someone else's job or from teaching someone else to do your job.
Be observant, and honest with your staff, employees and family. Clarity of vision requires stepping back from your current reality and calling a spade a spade.
Last, be positive. We each have a choice for how we take on today's challenges. Make your choice to approach it with a positive can do attitude. Make it contagious.

Perspiration (this is just a partial list. In fairness, this list should be 99 times longer):

Cut cost intelligently. To have funds to support your inspiration you need to minimize some of the things you may take for granted in your day to day expenses. My term for this is to "Rusty Rail" everything that is not essential.
Position yourself to take advantage of an opportunity, don't force it, but when opportunity knocks, don't walk away just because it is hard.
Leverage your team with leadership and a shared sense of urgency, focused on a common problem, pulled by a vision of how things will be better in the future.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Share your vision and talk about the challenge every chance you have, be single minded in your focus and your words.
Spend your money wisely; realize that what worked in the past may not work today. Throwing money at a market is not the solution today. People response to creative, unique approaches in this economy.
Build new relationships with your customers, get out of your office, spend time with your customers, understand their needs, leave running the business to someone else.
Don't plan on normal work hours, in these time your family and friends will understand, even expect it.
Raise the bar... in quality, professionalism, personal appearance the works as well as the results you expect from others.

Don't commit to this if you're not committed. Get an accountability partner, and coach a mentor and make sure their there to push you when you slow down, challenge you when you don't reach high enough, and honest with you even when you don't want to hear it. Now go forward and beat the odds.


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