By Larry Cassidy, Ted Margison, Paul David Walker
[dropcaps type=”circle” color=”” background=””]S[/dropcaps]pring time is upon us and it is time for house cleaning and planning. Many of you are familiar with the economists, Alan and Brian Beaulieu and how their economic forecasting helped in preparing for the last recession as well as for the financial impact that it had on most companies and individuals. They have presented another opportunity for us to be aware of in the coming future. They are projecting that sometime between the later part of 2013, we will be heading into another much milder recession that will continue through 2014.
We thought that we’d share some ideas from our Lighthouse Consulting team, so that you and your organization can begin to prepare and take advantage of the opportunities that could be just around the corner. We’re going to focus in on management, leadership and operations:
Management – Larry Cassidy
I would start with the following caution: whenever times get even a little better, it is an invitation for overhead creep. Put another way, a little bit of success invites a lot of overhead. Given that truth, and the fact that many businesses have experienced at least somewhat better times, it is likely time to grab the pruning shears.
- First, I suggest this process: go through every expense on your P&L, and ask the following questions: “Does this expense truly touch our customer and/or make his/her experience better? If not, is it at least critical to our future success?” Prune any expense which does not meet one or both tests.
- Second, take a stethoscope to your balance sheet. Get rid of bad inventory (it is rarely a “too much” thing, usually a “wrong stuff” thing). Your first loss is your best loss. Move it! Then get on and stay on your receivables. Both need to come down and cash needs to go up.
- Third, be sure you have top people in key positions. You will ask more out of the team in tougher times, so be sure you have quality and you trust the players. Then have the team cross-train all hands. Every employee should be able to do at least one back-up job adequately. This creates flexibility and can reduce headcount.
- Finally, make sure your critical systems are operating smoothly. The last thing you will want to do is have to plug “holes” with bodies.
Leadership – Paul David Walker
Take Market Share Now
Together, during a recession, you can increase market share easier than increasing profits. If you, your customers, and vendors survive and / or thrive during weak demand, you will rise together as demand increases, which it always does. Here is how you do this.
Recession Value Proposition
Adjust your value proposition to fit the new economic circumstances, and train all people who interact with customers to implant this in the minds of customers. For those of you who are in the B to B space, at some point in time your customer will be in a meeting with corporate leaders asking, “What vendors can you eliminate? How can we reduce our costs and be more appealing to our customers?” At that time you want the voice in the back of your customer’s head to be saying that your company is a keeper for the reasons you have implanted. Likewise, if you sell to the consumer, you want the consumer thinking that your products will help them live better in this economy. The consumer advertising, packaging and PR should be positioning your brand as the answer. Your new value proposition should to targeted and ever present.
One of my B to B customers mission is to provide “Engineered Solutions” that improve the efficiency of their client’s factories. They explain, “We will work with flexibility and expertise.” They are making sure all their customers have this on the top of their minds. Another client, who sells to consumers, vision statement is: “Better Products … Better Life.” They are sure their advertising drives home how their products provide twice the value at lower prices. They are working on getting this message into the scripts of their customer service teams around the world. The most successful businesses during a recession implant their new value proposition at every contact with customers. This makes the relationship strong, and creates hesitation before a customer changes brands. That relationship will benefit all as the tide rises.
Extend Your Team
Make it clear to your vendors and customers, that we are all in the same boat floating on a low tide of demand, and that we must work together for mutual success. Continuously reach out to customers to understand their changing needs and wants and make temporary deals with the customers and vendors that will carry all through changing economic dynamics. If your customer needs a price break, ask your vendors to reduce their prices. If they need to reduce their inventories, get your vendors to help you create just-in-time inventory programs. Find out what your customers and vendors need to help their business prosper, and have the flexibility to change your products or services to fit. Do not get stuck in business as usual. Business as usual will be a death sentence. Build a community of strong relationships with your customers and vendors.
Talk about your mutual missions and synchronize them so all can succeed during economic change. Make it clear to all that you and your company are committed to mutual success. Let them see and feel your commitment to mutual success.
Attack Weak Competitors
As your competitors fail to adapt to the changes in the wants and needs of the market place, their customers will be moving. Be sure they move to you. Conduct research to determine your competitor’s weaknesses and focus on acquiring their customers, who will be frustrated with those weaknesses. If your value proposition is right, and being communicated in the market place at every point of contact, they will come to you. The most venerable competitors have the following weaknesses:
- Overextended credit
- Old technology
- Cash flow problems
- Poor customer service
- Inability to adjust prices
- Lack of flexibility
Once you understand the nature of the weaknesses of your competitors, select the three weakest and develop a strategy to acquire their customers.
Position yourself as the life raft for the customers tied to a sinking ship. People in corporations tend to change at a slower rate than people in the market. Be ahead of the wave of change and find competitors who are not. Business has always been driven by relationship and trust. During high demand it may not be as important because of the lack of supply for surging demand.
During economic and social change when demand is falling, relationship and trust are even more important.
If you have ridden the wave of demand, maximized your profits and weakened your relationships, it is past time to change, but never too late. Do not hesitate, find and communicate the correct value proposition for your business, extend your team to include customers and vendors, and rescue customers from the sinking ships of your competitors.
Operations – Ted Margison
Interestingly, the key things a company should do in preparing for a downturn are often the same things they should do in preparing for an upturn.
- Streamline and standardize processes; you will need to be able to do more with less. Automate as much as possible in order to respond more quickly to changing demands.
- Design processes for flexibility and adaptability. As customers change to accommodate changes in their marketplace the transaction size will often vary dramatically from what you have been used to. As well, new types of demand can arise as companies look for different ways to provide value to their customers, which might result in new types of demands for your business. You should be doing the same by looking for new types of opportunities.
- Understand the decision-making processes that drive demand for your product or services. Better visibility on what drives customer demand means better predictability for you. Do this with each of your key customers in particular. Then work with them to make sure you can respond to their changing needs in a timely and cost-effective manner.
According to Dana Borowka, CEO of Lighthouse Consulting Services LLC www.lighthouseconsulting.com and author of Cracking the Personality Code, hiring the right people is key to future growth. If you would like additional information on raising the hiring bar, please click here to see an article on this subject: Cracking The Personality Code: Hire Right The First Time.
In our blog, we are sharing more specific ideas in these various areas. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact any of our consultants. Also, if you have additional topics that you’d like us to address either in our Keeping On Track publications or Open Line monthly web conferences, please let us know. We look forward to hearing from you.
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Lighthouse Consulting Services, LLC provides a variety of services, including in-depth work style assessments for new hires & staff development, team building, interpersonal & communication training, career guidance & transition, conflict management, workshops, and executive & employee coaching. To order the books, Cracking the Personality Code and Cracking the Business Code, please go to www.lighthouseconsulting.com.