#555       Innovative Leader     Volume 11, Number 6        June 2002

Growing Your Business in Uncertain Times
by Jennifer Vessels

Ms. Vessels is founder of Next Step (jvessels@nextstepgrowth.com), helping companies grow through development and implementation of effective sales, marketing and people- management programs.

How often do and your colleagues ask one another “do you see any signs of improvement in the economy?” Everyone is looking for a return to growth. But the reality today is Business Is Down. As with all situations, we can’t change that reality, but we do have choices in how we deal with it.

Instead of “simply” waiting for the recovery, which we know will come, you can use effective marketing techniques to begin to win new business, while investing time to build a foundation for long-term growth.

Refocus to Win New Business

Many companies do have money, which can be spent.  The decision makers today just need confidence they will see quick “bottom line” results from their expenditures. To win new business, focus and position your services to provide the revenue, profitability and productive results that are needed now. In some cases, this can be a change in your marketing approach; in others, it might mean modifying the products or services offered.

In uncertain markets, customers are much more likely to buy from their previous supplier than to change to a new unproven vendor for key purchases – unless the price offered by the new supplier is significantly lower than the incumbent’s price level. Therefore, marketing to existing or past customers right now can lead to greater success and profits than cold calling.

For example, a strategic marketing consultant might now offer past customers more tactical services such as product release or customer acquisition consulting. Likewise, a software company may choose to develop and market modular products or add-ons to existing customers instead of focusing on a premium product for large new customers.

As you submit bids or offers, remember that as much as prospects might believe in your solution, they may be too uncertain to commit to extensive projects with long term benefits. Keep proposals simple and include examples of where and how your solutions have provided similar companies with short-term, bottom-line results. If possible, break your offering into modules or phases, so the decision maker can start small, then decide on future purchases based on the results received.

Build a Foundation for Your Business

In the high growth market of recent years, planning, positioning and developing clear growth plans for your business may have seemed a bit “old fashioned.” Now, stakeholders are seeking achievement of revenue and profit goals, so it is important to have a clear strategy, direction and milestones for accomplishment.

This foundation starts with definition of a business model, which outlines how the company will differentiate itself to provide value to customers and profits back to shareholders. The next building block is the target audience - those companies that will gain the greatest value from the solution offered. For companies selling primarily to the high technology industry, this can be an excellent time to consider whether your product or service can be adapted to meet the specific needs of other high-growth industries.

With the business model and target market(s) defined, the next step is to position the company. Based on market conditions, competitive offerings, unique differentiators and target market needs, positioning work results in a simple statement of how the company will compete in the market.

Build a Presence through Marketing

With a clear positioning statement and marketing message, you can build a results-oriented, cost-effective marketing plan.  The marketing plan should include campaigns such as direct mail or telesales, customer retention programs, press and analyst relations, trade show participation, also a web site, newsletters or e-zines.

Depending upon the type of business you are in, development and delivery of seminars or presentations at industry associations, networking events or in public forums can be a good subtle promotion for your offering(s). In addition, articles on your company’s area of expertise published in industry magazines or newspapers can build presence and credibility for your firm.

Expand your Personal Horizons

Finally, you may have wanted to do more for your community during the past few years. If you now find yourself with spare time, this can be an opportunity to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, local volunteer groups or non-profits which are important to you. You will meet new people and invest your extra time in ways that can benefit you and your community. Remember also that people buy from people they know and trust (especially in uncertain times), so the contacts you make through your personal network can also benefit your business today and in the future.

While there is uncertainty about the future, one of the lessons from the past is that conditions will change. There have been many downturns before, followed by strong periods of growth. Adapt your business in such a way that you can generate revenues now, but use the time to lay the foundation for greater growth during the next upturn.

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©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.