How paying attention during downturns can improve results in boom periods

Merrill Dubrow, President and CEO, M/A/R/C Research

Everyone knows the economy has been challenging, difficult, irritating and many other things in the past few years. When did it start to affect your enterprise? When did you start feeling business was a little soft? For us at M/A/R/C Research, it was July 2008. The interesting thing for me is that was more than four years ago.

In my opinion, the last four years have been the most difficult that my generation of business executives will ever face. Since I always wanted to be a professional athlete, I think of this environment as my seventh game of the World Series, my Super Bowl, my NBA final.

In some ways, this is my quest. There is no better way to see how good you are as a business executive, strategist, leader or motivator than to see the results you have had during the current economy.

I also believe there have been tremendous lessons during this time. Here are a few I wanted to share with you.

1. Don’t hire ahead of the curve. I have made this mistake more than once. This volatile economy has taught me many things and at the top of the list is this one. I don’t want any of our staff working 60 hours a week consistently, but occasionally, this type of extra effort will be needed.

Before we have traction with a new strategy or a new revenue stream, we need to find a way to use internal resources. Once the revenue starts to roll in, then we can add staff — not before.

2. You have a new best friend. Not everyone wants or needs a new best friend, but this is one everyone should have. I am actually not talking about a person; your new best friend is LinkedIn. You need to be a power user and understand all the benefits associated with this amazing tool.

LinkedIn is the single most important business tool I use daily. With industry contacts changing jobs frequently, it’s critical to stay in touch and know where they are. LinkedIn is the largest business database that exists, and the basic version is free.

3. You need to be relevant. You need to be relevant to your staff, your clients and the industry you are in. If you aren’t relevant to your staff or clients, they eventually will leave.

You need to be considered an innovator or thought leader in your industry. If you are, this will give you a tremendous lift over your competitors and protect you during economic declines.

4. Don’t let clients pigeonhole you. This is one of the more painful mistakes that companies make. When we have senior leadership meetings and discuss clients and partnerships, our team gets confused with longevity as a core reason they consider a client a partner.

Longevity is great with any given client, but if they are using only one of your services or think of you for only one solution even though you sell 10, are they really a partner? I say no, and we have changed our thinking and spent months strategizing about increasing revenue with current clients and expanding our service offerings to them. And, thankfully, it has worked.

5. Expect the unexpected. What are you going to do when your largest client has a layoff? Or you lose a significant amount of business to a small competitor? Or your top salesperson leaves? All of these things are real. They can happen. Are you prepared? Do you have a solution ready that you could implement quickly? If not, sudden events like this could cost you a lot of money.

Merrill Dubrow is president and CEO of Dallas-based M/A/R/C Research, one of the top 25 market research companies in the United States. Dubrow is a sought-after speaker and has been writing a blog for more than six years. He can be reached at [email protected] or (972) 983-0416.

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