by Michael Canic, PhD
The economy remains weak and uncertain. Glimmers of hope and clouds of despair alternately give way to each other. So with 2012 just around the corner where are the strategic opportunities?
1. Customers: Know their hearts
Customers are as anxious as everyone else. That provides an opportunity for you to meet their emotional needs. Like their need to feel confident. More than ever, customers need to feel they’re making the right decision in choosing you and that you can reliably do what you say you can do. Your job is to instill them with total confidence. Can you point to similar successes you’ve had with other customers? Do you have impeccable references that will speak on your behalf? As powerfully as you can, you need to convey your expertise, not just your experience.
Next, your customers have an emotional need for comfort. Comfort in knowing they have one less thing to worry about. If you can anticipate and prevent even the smallest problems, respond urgently and comprehensively if they should arise, and take action to make amends for any inconvenience, then you are relieving their anxiety and providing comfort. Not to mention providing value well beyond your product or service.
2. Competitors: Know their pain
Sure, you’re going to take some hits. Just make sure your competitors take more. In tough times companies turn inward and often forget to monitor their competitors. Yet the pain of your competitors can provide you with strategic opportunities to differentiate yourself in ways that customers value.
Have your competitors cut back on inventory? Then emphasize your supply of stock, and quick and reliable delivery. Have they closed branch locations? Focus on your local presence and relationships. Are they on the ropes financially? Discount pricing might squeeze them out of the market.
Your competitors’ pain may be your opportunity. Track them closely.
3. Associates: Give them reason to believe
Anxious employees want to believe everything will be all right. Give them reason to believe. Ramp up your employee communications:
• Explain the vision – not just the “what” but the “why”, and why it’s attainable
• Outline the roadmap – show them the path for achieving the vision
• Speak with conviction – the more you convey that you believe, the more they will believe
• Involve them in the “how” – encourage their ideas and their critique of your ideas; let them know you’re in this together
• Celebrate more than you think you should – for successes big and small
During difficult times, morale is especially sensitive. Devoting extra time and attention to engaging employees means you’re likely to get the discretionary effort you need to outperform your competitors.
4. Offerings: Repackage and restructure
Customers still want and need your products and services. Maybe it’s a question of repackaging them and restructuring your value proposition.
If customers are less willing to commit then make it easier for them by offering free trials, shorter contracts or smaller shipment sizes. Consider unbundling your offerings or developing “light” versions. If the concern is downstream costs then adjust your warranty policy and provide service incentives. Is cash flow their issue? Offer flexible payment options. Do they need to make do with what they have? Start a consulting division to help them optimize their existing equipment.
You don’t have to figure it out. Challenge your people to develop creative ways to repackage your offerings and restructure your value proposition.
5. The Business Model: Attack your assumptions
There’s nothing like intense pressure to force the question: is our current business model still viable?
Consider the decline of independent bookstores. Only recently has that trend slowed. Why? Because many of them changed their business model. Some have focused on products that complement books: cooking utensils next to cookbooks, small travel items next to travel books, vases next to gardening books. Others have added service: free door-to-door delivery within city limits. Some stream in-store readings on their website and offer to mail signed books for online participants. Still others have formed alliances with competitors to jointly promote and host special events.
If your strategies are still not getting you where you need to go, then it’s time to question your fundamental assumptions – your business model.
Every situation provides strategic opportunities. Uncertain times are no different. Focus on the fundamentals: customers, competitors, employees, your offerings and your business model. While you can’t do much about the economic clouds of despair, you can provide a silver lining.
Michael Canic is co-founder and president of Bridgeway Leadership, a strategy + execution consulting firm with offices in the U.S. and Canada. Bridgeway’s focus: Making Strategy Happen through a relentless focus on alignment, commitment and execution. As a consultant and advisor, he has helped dozens of businesses and other organizations across North America achieve quantifiable results.