When the Economy Seems Hopeless, Attack!

In the current economic environment almost every business and individual is hunkered down focused on a day to day strategy of survival.  This is a natural reaction to uncertainty, but some of the best opportunities for competitive advantage result from these ‘near death experiences’.  How does the old line go?  ” What does not kill you will make you stronger!”  I suggest a more productive use of time and motivated resources today is to focus NOT on today but on how you position your products and company for the coming recovery.

There are several reasons this makes sense.  First, your competitors are in the same boat you are–uncertain and hunkered down—but are you smarter than they are?  Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of their products?  Their customer relationships?  There’s market position?  So how can you use this time of retooling to position your products to overtake the competition as the markets recover.  Time is never an ally in these things.  While the economists tells us recovery will likely start in the 2H of 2009 it probably won’t feel like it until 1H of 2010.  So maybe you have six to twelve months to get your competitive act together.  How will you spend it?

Here are my suggested New Year’s Resolutions for you:

  1. Talk to your customers honestly. Understand their business situation and look for ways to partner with them to reinforce your working relationship.  Ask your customers how they use your products. What do they like and not like?  If you use this time to retool it may as well be devoted to improvements your customers want.
  2. Give your product some WOW! Are there quick fixes you can make that improve satisfaction?  Get feedback about how your products stack up to competitors and enlist your customers in the retooling process by helping you prioritize what improvements you make.  It is easier to keep a customer than get a new one–so enlist yours in a community of users that looks out for each other during the rough times.
  3. Create New Products. I know this sounds counter intuitive in this ugly economy, but the downtime is your best opportunity to take those ideas for new products and productize all that intellectual property you are sitting on.  By blending your capabilities with the business needs your customers are describing, can you create new products that will blow the competition away as the market improves?
  4. Right size the business, don’t neuter it. Cutbacks in staffing and investment are necessary in these times.  But be careful that you don’t undermine your core competencies and thus prevent the retooling and refocus on the recovery ahead.  Push your best people in front of clients.  Leverage your good relationships for wallet share of services.  Offer to partner if a customer can help you speed your time to market for new product ideas by being a beta tester and product collaborator.
  5. Champion your company’s future not its problems.  Your people want to know where your company is going and whether they have a future in it.  Now is the time to be a true evangelist.  Sharpen your message about the product or company vision and preach the gospel often. You want these folks remaining to quickly move beyond grieving to be motivated about taking names and kicking butt in the recovery ahead.