Generating Business in a Challenging Economy


As in life, business undergoes the cyclical patterns of nature and the environment. Today, companies are entering a cycle of demanding challenges created by the economic downturn in key industries.

To meet these demands, companies are beginning to downsize, reorganize, restructure, cut costs, and freeze hiring. Management directives requesting (actually requiring) that staff embrace the necessary changes and initiatives are often met with resistance and skepticism. This results in low employee morale and a corresponding loss of productivity. Yet, companies still face a world of fierce competition making the recent challenges seem overwhelming—so much so that many companies are in a stand still—waiting for the situation to improve.

Today’s business approach—the waiting game

In a recent conversation, a manufacturer stated that some people in the plant seem to be simply going through the motions of their jobs. He added, “They appear demoralized—as though someone has let the air out of their tires. They keep hearing talk about an uncertain future, and are afraid we may have a lay-off. At the same time, end-users have become more demanding than ever, sales are down for many of our dealers and they are complaining to us. Our management team is in a quandary and is waiting to see what happens with the economy before making any major decisions on what direction to take.”

Similarly, a home builder in a nearby community was beginning to develop a condominium project. He put up three buildings and decided to hold off on the rest. He planted grass over the land instead and will wait two years before beginning to build.

Building product manufacturers who were experiencing record breaking sales and couldn’t keep up with the orders have either laid people off or changed to four day work weeks.

Real estate executives, building products sales people, equipment dealers, retailers, homebuilders, financial institutions and many other sectors are trying to figure out what to do “until things turn around.”

The better way to go

While it may seem the safe way to go, waiting until things get better can be the wrong move. Companies facing these challenges need to take heart! Seneca said, “It’s a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.” New opportunities exist even in the most difficult period. This could be just right time to create new opportunities, while reinforcing existing business. Let the others wait for things to turn around. You take the leadership role.

To further illustrate the possibilities of success in creating new opportunities against all odds, let’s look at three examples: the sports world; countries creating economy in adverse conditions; and international business.

1. Sports World Example:

In college and professional sports, how do teams maintain their winning dominance with the best programs in spite of the cyclical player changes? In college, athletes change continuously by graduating or leaving early for the pros. Even in the pros, players are traded frequently—moving from team to team.

When these programs are not experiencing long-term success, what do they do? They still have to create a winning team every year regardless of the continuously changing pool of talent. The schools and sports ownership expect it. The fans demand it.

Simply put, they insure they have the right coaching staff and strategies. Then they get players focused on “back to the basics.” They take their team to the next level when everyone is proficient at the basics and fundamentals. Concurrently, coaches need to confirm those players that fit their program best and identify gaps that need to be filled. By sticking to the basics, the continually successful teams weather the unpredictable changes that occur.

2. Countries Creating Economy in Adverse Conditions Example:

In the book, “The Competitive Advantages of Nations” by Dr. Michael Porter, there are many examples of how countries around the world have created success in the most adverse conditions. One in particular is the Netherlands challenge in developing the flower trade as an economic entity. The country’s weather and environment is harsh and averse to growing flowers. To offset these factors, the government began a program of building greenhouses throughout the country and encouraging flower producers to create exciting appealing new hybrids. Today, the Netherlands provides the majority of the world’s commercial flower sales. A country with no environment for growing flowers created the opportunity to become the leading producer in the world.

3. International Business Example:

In the late 1980s, the Japanese economy was growing at an amazing pace— close to surpassing that of the U.S. In 1989, Japan’s bubble burst through devaluation of real estate. The country slipped into a deep recession. How did foreign expatriates, selling into the Japanese market, handle this dilemma while living In Japan?

Before the downturn, many Japanese companies had little or no time to look into ventures with foreign companies. After the economy went into recession, many foreign expatriates living In Japan were asking, “What do we do now?” The answer was simple. The Japanese companies were now open to generating new opportunities and revenue through foreign companies. Recognizing this, many expatriates built relationships and partnerships with targeted Japanese companies. Now, foreign companies were deciding which Japanese companies would be the best long-term partners. Successful expatriates used the slowdown economy to create business relationships and opportunities that were vehicles for mutual growth through the 1990s and beyond.

These three diverse examples show that you can create success and growth no matter how bleak things look on the surface. Every industry has its own issues and challenges. Identifying those issues and turning them into opportunities help companies create new business, even in a challenging economy.

What you need to do, is to keep sight of the big picture while defining the best strategies, programs, products, and services that will differentiate you from other businesses in your industry. In the end, you want to boost your revenue while positioning your company for continued success. As the previous examples illustrate, there are always roads to success. It’s simply finding those that give you the results you are seeking.

Actions to create new business in a challenging economy

The following are actions for executives, managers, and sales pros in any industry to create new business in a challenging economy (while others may be waiting for things to turn around):

Accept that times have changed and what worked in the past may not work in the future. Use change to provide the “creative tension” to keep you moving forward. Tough times are opportunities to tap into your creativity, get your organization running like a well-oiled machine, and seek new ways of doing business.

Rethink your entire business strategy. Ask these questions: Have you been complacent for too long? Where might there be opportunities to expand our services? What more can we offer? How can you penetrate new markets?

If you are in sales, are you doing the same things you’ve always done? You simply can’t. You have to go deeper into your accounts, up sell, and work harder than ever to build relationships.

Differentiate or Die! If what you sell or offer is essentially the same as your competitors, you are not doing enough. You need to be different and better in your level of service and your approach to marketing and sales. Be willing to take a risk. Tap into your creativity and think about what you can do to differentiate your company from your competitors. That way you will truly stand out in the minds of your customers.

What new approach to sales and marketing can you take that is unique to the industry? What more can you offer? Be bolder, better, and sharper so you will stand out in the minds of potential and existing customers.

If you are in sales, you need to reassess your personal approach. You must approach all customers so you don’t sound the same as every other sales person. Find your own personal style and stand out. Better yet, call them with ideas to help them grow their business, even if they are not already your customer.

Reject rejection: Whether times are good or bad, you encounter rejection every day. When you’re creating new business in a challenging economy, rejection may be harder to accept. In reality, rejection should give you more drive and ambition to succeed. Rejection can come from many sources: catching someone on a bad day, lack of desire to try something new, products and services don’t seem to fit the problem or the message may not be clear and concise. Your role in creating new business is to actively hone in on where rejection is coming from. Confirm that the opportunity is correct and try again with improved strategies. The most successful business sale often comes after multiple rejections. Stay positive, focused, and flexible— using rejection to help define the road you take to build success.

Use visualization. The spiritual side of creating new business is visualization. The most successful people in the world visualize their success before it happens. Professional golfers visualize the exact path their ball will take In putting on the undulating greens, taking Into account the grass’ grain direction and speed of the greens. Doctors visualize their entire surgical process in major surgery, knowing the path they will take and any challenges in the way, to perform the best operations with limited impact on the patient’s body.

Visualization in creating new business during a challenging economy requires viewing the big picture, seeing the best strategies, visualizing the closing, and recognizing the necessary long-term service. In both marketing and sales, we need to visualize the road we will be taking to achieve our goals. As we proceed, the path may change many times, but success will come from flexibility and visualization.

Invest in technology that reduces your operational cost, improves quality, and increases your contact with the customer. Pay attention to CRM regardless of the size of your company. Use technology as the driver and the tool for business growth. Remember, there are new technologies being created every day. Obtain assistance from service-providers who can research and determine what technologies will best serve your needs.

Make an economic downturn a good time to reexamine and improve your business fundamentals. Think about your values and make sure your people demonstrate the values of honesty, integrity, ethics, excellence, quality, continuous improvement, health, family, safety, concern for the environment, professionalism, and social consciousness. Make sure your people live and breathe these values. Train them on how, specifically, they should demonstrate these values on a day-to-day basis. Consider printing a simple value statement on the back of your business cards to remind your staff and customers what you stand for and what is important to your company.

Communicate effectively. Talk with your customers, employees, suppliers, and shareholders. Ask questions that will lead to answers to uncover problems and provide you with fresh ideas.

If you sell through dealer networks or distributors, ask them where they see their business in the future and partner for success. Identify how you can assist them to sell more of your products. Ask what more you can do to help position them to get where they want to be in their own businesses. Then, give them the help they need. Lighten up on your restrictions. In the long run, this will pay off tenfold. Remember that quality relationships breed long-term profitability.

Involve your employees and enlist their support. Ask them for their extra effort and to show initiative beyond their job description. Involve them in problem solving and idea sharing on how to increase profitability, stimulate productivity, and control costs. If rewards are in the picture, you will increase your chances of accomplishing this.

Create a “Sales-Service Excellence Culture.” Create a culture of high-performing and dedicated people where everyone recognizes that they, too, are “in sales” no matter what their job role. Appreciate them, value them, and consistently reinforce that they play a strong part in developing the reputation of you company and establishing high levels of customer loyalty.

Remind everyone in your company that they must fully support your sales team. Without their sales, no one can keep getting a paycheck. Ask your people to be accountable for their performance, not only to management and customers, but also to EACH OTHER. It has been said that an organization is only as good as its people. If this is true, you won’t survive unless you have the commitment from everyone in your company to display behaviors that breed customer loyalty and to deliver their best performance every day through good times and bad.

Get rid of “dead-weight.” Those who do not “buy-in” to your Sales-Service Excellence Culture can hold you back. In fact, just one person who is incompetent or has a negative attitude can hold back an entire team. Have the courage to remove anyone who does not fit in with your new culture. If you don’t act quickly, your top performers will be unhappy that they have to take up the slack. You may lose your top performers by putting up with those who don’t “buy-In.”

Successful companies know they always need new blood. There are many unemployed or underemployed quality workers available and eager to take on the challenge of a new job and would be willing to work harder than anyone just to have it.

This can be an opportunity to make excellent sales people out of ordinary sales people. Brainstorm with your sales staff. Analyze your “Best Sales Practices” and share the information with your entire sales force. If you sell through dealers, or your sales force is situated across the country, do it through e-mail or, better yet, hire someone to do it for you. Do it now; don’t wait for your annual sales meeting. Urge them to redouble their efforts and do what has worked in the past to increase their sales. They need to do everything they didn’t have the time to do when times were good.

Optimize your human capital. Train people who are outgoing and possess excellent communication skills to assist your sales force and work the phones, even for a short period of time each day. Instruct them to contact every person who might be a prospect or lead them to one. Again, if you institute a reward system, you will see a higher level of enthusiasm. When things do turn around, you will have a competitive edge because your staff will know all about the traditional sales process. They will be more supportive and understand the “big-picture” to a greater degree.

Be receptive to innovative new products that will enhance your current product line and stimulate business growth. Research and learn new products that can help you expand your business. Recognize that you may need to find products overseas that can enhance your current product or add to your product line. You can’t afford not to. Did you know that a number of important companies have found critical new products and technologies, especially on an initial basis, from outside companies? For example, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, first saw the fast food concept and technology while traveling (as a salesman) through Southern California in the early 1950s. He established a strategic alliance with the McDonald Brothers and eventually bought out the rights to their business practices—and their name! This led to the multi-billion dollar corporation that exists today.

Another example is Microsoft. Although Bill Gates sometimes downplays the importance of strategic alliances and finding new products externally, the initial technology for the PC operating system that he developed for IBM originally came from a small company in Seattle called Seattle Computing. As with Ray Kroc, he initially licensed the software program and then bought out the complete rights to the software that was used for IBM-type PCs. This was one of the most critical acquisitions of outside technology by a company in the computer software industry.

Drug companies routinely license-in new pharmaceutical products or buy other companies in order to obtain blockbuster products. For example, Pfizer acquired Warner-Lambert to get the rights to Lipitor, now one of the best selling cholesterol drugs in the world. If your company does not pay attention to new trends, new technology developments, and emerging products and markets, then you may be blind-sided the way many U.S. companies have been in the past.

Consider what happened to one of America’s foremost telecommunications companies which, in the late 1980s, had an insular, if not arrogant, mentality. They preferred not to devote much attention to overseas competitors and outside new technologies. Before they knew it, they ran into heavy competition from Nokia in Finland, a company they initially dismissed as an obscure, foreign competitor coming from a small market in Scandinavia.

To survive, you must be receptive and open to outside new technology and overseas markets. Andy Grove, founder of Intel, always said it is better to be paranoid about competitors, both domestic and foreign, than to have one sneak up on you when you least expect it. He concluded by saying, “All companies need to keep their eyes open, look overseas, and be pro-active.”

No matter how often you’ve heard about the importance of customer service, it always warrants reinforcement. The customer rules! It’s an all-too familiar mantra that needs repeating. Customers determine your success. To obtain customer loyalty and remain competitive, your level of service must far surpass your competition. You need to provide exceptional service on a consistent basis. Remember:

Great brands
are the result of consistently
great customer experiences.

Train everyone in customer service skills. Discuss ways you have exceeded customer expectations in the past and what you can do in the future. Think of how you can improve the customer experience.

Make sure your customer is made to feel important—very important and much appreciated. What have you done lately to show your customers you appreciate them?

Leverage vendor expertise. Enlist their help in growing your own business. These can be Important Alliance Partnerships to insure that your components, products, and services are first-class and fit the profile you have for building success. These relationships should be viewed as allies for your continuous Improvement. The more you grow, the more they grow with you.

Make sure your infrastructure is efficient and your operations run like a well-oiled machine. Spend your time and energy in the following areas: creating, strategizing, improving operations, forming alliances, selecting the right technology, taking care of customers, tapping into new markets, outdistancing your competitors with innovate new products, and making decisions. THESE actions will help drive business growth through a tough economy—not waiting “until things turn around.”

Don’t lose your enthusiasm. If you do others will, too. Believe in yourself, your company, its products or services, and its people. Then, make the customer feel that same enthusiasm and belief.

Stay focused on a better future. Here’s an acronym you may wish to use in your company…

Forward Thinking

Optimistic Attitude (Remember, every economic slowdown causes the markets to shift to a new direction.)


Urgency to Execute Strategies and Solutions to Problems

Success as a Unified Team

In the end, each and every day, do more than your best. Develop an obsession for turning out your best performance with every customer, every employee, and every coworker— every day.

Charles Darwin taught us about the concept of survival of the fittest, which means that those who are the most responsive to change will survive. In today’s world, those who are most adaptable will survive. Those who institute smart strategies, introduce new products, and differentiate themselves from their competitors by portraying a higher level of service in every aspect of the customer experience will not only survive, but also gain a competitive edge.

Creating new business in a challenging economy takes the right people, plans, and tools. More important, it takes the right attitude of pushing forward and not simply “waiting for things to turn around.” Finding the right road to success in tough times will position your company well ahead of your competition, ready to accelerate even faster when things do turn around.


Photo Courtesy of (Chris Potter – Flickr


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About Christine Corelli

Christine Corelli is a motivational, keynote, business, leadership, sales, and customer service speaker, sales trainer, and author of six business books. As a keynote speaker, she is known for her high energy and interactive speaking style.

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