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By Rick Sherman

It's a simple question, but one with far reaching implications for your business. As the economy continues to sputter along, businesses often stop strategizing for "success" and start preparing for "survival." It's a practice wrongly justified as a financial necessity, but in reality is a tipping point towards a complete financial failure.

Understand that no business ever succeeded by adopting a survival strategy. Regardless of market conditions, the ultimate goal is to succeed, and efforts continually reinforce that objective. Leaders in their respective industries, and those aspiring to become the leaders, never accept a survival mentality. Periods of market uncertainty and economic turmoil create an opportunity to refine practices, reconnect with the target market, improve strategy, leverage technology, explore new communication channels, and strengthen their brand when there is less competitive "noise."

I understand this all looks good on paper, and I realize it's easy to sit back and espouse advice and be critical from afar. Talk is cheap, as they say. However, understand that I share the same challenges as a business owner and have to answer the same difficult questions. It's not easy to think aggressively during a period of recession, but it is critical. Creating a successful integrated strategy to succeed in periods of economic distress is a detailed process, but here are some key elements that must become the foundation of any successful organization:

Customer Service and Sales-Based Organizations
Now more than ever, the client is your most precious resource. Treat them as such. Every individual throughout the organization must be cognizant of this. True sales-based organizations understand that customer service is an attitude, not a job title in a department.

The reason organizations reduce marketing/advertising budgets when the economy is slow is because they often questioned their value when the economy was good! When your marketing efforts are ambiguous instead of accurate, you're wasting money regardless of marketing conditions. When you truly understand your target, and have an integrated strategy in place, the value of marketing will become increasingly apparent through increased lead volume.

Social Media and CRM
Leverage social media. It must be a core component of your integrated strategy plan. The data supports it, and if you don't utilize this technology, you will be losing business to those who are. Lastly, it is critical that information is managed and potential clients are facilitated properly. Without an effective lead management system and a consistent pipeline flowing with opportunities, there is no business.

If you're wondering what separates the truly successful businesses from the rest-it starts with the answer to this question: "Do I want to succeed in 2010?"

Rick Sherman is a senior level business advisor and consultant for Forward Progress, Inc. and the President of New Essence Media, a marketing agency focused on developing strategies through "Intelligent Integration." To contact: [email protected][email protected]