Listening to the lyrics in The Doors song, "Light My Fire", I think they might just have the answer to helping business through these challenging times. "Try to set the night on fire/The time to hesitate is through/No time to wallow in the mire/Try now we can only lose," rings true.
What do you do when there are only embers? How do you stop worrying about wet matches? No fuel, no problem.
In times of unpredictable, intense change, the best way to deal with the stress is to get into action and do things differently. Bob Eckert and Jonathan Vehar are innovation thought-leaders who, in addition to founding and running New & Improved, LLC, have been helping clients strengthen and grow their businesses for the past 20 years. Their client list includes companies like Johnson & Johnson, Disney, McDonald’s, GE, Pfizer, and the US Government. Having succeeded through many ebbs and flows of the economy, they offer the following advice to those trying to grow their businesses in economically chaotic times:
In Dante’s Inferno, the gates of hell were inscribed with the phrase, "Abandon hope all ye who enter here." While hope may be good, it’s not enough to drive the business. In other words, it’s time to stop hoping the phone will ring and start taking action. Not the action of doing the same old things, but starting with fresh approaches that you have never had the time or resources to try in the past. If customers aren't responding, it’s time for you and your organization to shake things up and get smart, new things happening.
Hyundai, the automobile manufacturer, was once a punch line in the auto industry. But this year they have been one of the consistent players gaining share in an industry that has had one of the roughest years ever. How did they do it? Not by doing what they always did. They went out and offered the Hyundai Assurance program, which will make payments for you or buy back your new Hyundai if you lose your job. Innovative and not terribly expensive in the long term, it gets people into a car when they’re a bit nervous about the economy...and it’s creating very noteworthy results. More to the point, they aren’t sitting around hoping. They’re taking action.
Do a 180-degree shift
In the beginning, you probably tried many things until you discovered what worked for your job and/or your customers. In times of chaos and uncertainty, the same-old-same-old aren’t going to cut it. It’s time to look at things from the reverse angle.
Jackie Bassett, CEO of BT Industrials, Inc., gives the advice of "doing a 180-degree turn." In other words, completely reversing what you’ve been doing. See what happens when you offer up the complete opposite of what you’ve been offering and see how you might adapt it. Google’s search engine is a great example of this. Google started out as a completely free search engine. Then someone realized that it could be a paid search engine. The twist, of course, is that it’s the one’s being searched who pick up the tab. In one of our Innovation Leadership programs, a client pulled a reversal on test procedures for radio waves that radically shifted their approach, and made it simpler, easier and more cost effective.
Run new experiments quickly
Yeah, so there are a million different apps out there that promise to improve your business and/or outreach. Is Twitter right for you? Or Dimdim? Or Ping? Or Yammer? There’s only one way to find out. And in most cases, giving it a try doesn’t cost money, just time. The experiments don’t have to be technological; they can also be new ways of getting attention that you’ve never tried before. Try a lot of experiments on the cheap. When business is slow, guess what you have a lot of? Time. Not so much money, so don’t go for the gold-plated, diamond-handled option, run some quick experiments to see what works and what doesn’t (yet).
McDonald’s has an innovation center where they can quickly test out high-tech features, designs and processes before they move out to stores to find out if things work. If so, great. If not, no big deal. It gives McDonald’s the flexibility to try new things constantly so that they can fail early, learn, and keep on innovating.
Give a free taste
People are really curious to see what you have to offer, but with dollars tight, buyers seem extra cautious. So why not make it easy for them to see what you can bring? Hey, if it’s good enough for drug dealers…Okay, bad example. But no doubt you’ve been lured into buying items because the sampling of them proved their worth at no risk to you.
Tried any good online meeting software lately? We think that WebEx, GoToMeeting and so forth are great. How do we know? Because it’s easy to use and try for free. And it’s allowed us to find the provider that’s right for our webinar series. It’s a classic strategy, whether you’re a technology provider, a food company, or a hotelier. If you’ve got a particularly stellar offering, let people discover just how wonderful it is for them.
Our friends at Starbucks do a very good job of sampling new offerings. When things are slow in their locations, nothing makes the checkout line go faster than free hot chocolate! Likewise, True Religion company founder Jeff Lubell gave away pairs of his True Religion jeans to skeptical sales staffers. When customers saw staffers wearing the jeans, they then bought.
Search for bargains
It wasn’t long ago that talent was at a premium. Whether it was marketing help, technology consultants or contractors to fix your kitchen, there was a time when getting people to return your call was a challenge. And pricing was at a premium for the people with sterling reputations. Well, demand has slipped, and contractors who used to be building houses are now putting in new sinks. Likewise, the people you need to help improve your business are a little hungry now as well. Now is a great time to get moving on those important projects. Prices are lower, people are more available, and you’ve got time to pay more attention to getting it done right in the first time.
Besa Lighting includes in their order a note that explains why they pack their expensive and fragile glass light fixtures in that high tech wonder, old newspapers. While we know that old newspaper is pretty inexpensive stuff, they make the case in their note that 1) it’s effective, 2) it reduces the waste stream, and 3) they buy the newspaper from a business that employs the mentally handicapped. While this may have been a strict cost-reduction strategy ("find a cheaper packaging material") it’s turned into one that strengthens their triple bottom line.
Yes, you’ve got many talents. And so do the people working with you. Why not turn yourself or your people loose on other tasks that will help to grow the business? If they’ve got some down time, have them develop lists, or make phone calls, or do sampling, or research new technology. By letting them do this, you’ll add to the ground you can cover and to their skills and value to the company.
The people in our packing and shipping department who send materials for our innovation training programs have developed a great ability to pull together lists of people to contact for business development. Our traffic schedulers are great at scheduling appointments for us to speak to prospects. Their multi-dimensionality has been a great help in keeping the business moving forward. When we drive past the local Jiffy-Lube and they don’t have the garage bays full of customers, they have someone out holding a sign offering $5 off until the garage bays are full. Do they have a dedicated sign-holder? Nope. But if you can turn a wrench, you can probably wave a sign. It’s the same thing with Starbucks and their sampling…they’re not "sampling professionals," they’re baristas and cashiers with nothing to do.
One last thing
Dante didn’t paint a pretty picture of hell. And while it seems like, economically speaking, we may be in the middle of it, Dante also said "from a little spark may burst a flame." We’ve outlined a few tactics for you to explore. Any one of them may cause that spark that creates enough energy to take you and your business to the next level.
I would love to hear what you are doing to light the fire.
Julie Sue Auslander, M.Ed, WPO, WBE
President / Chief Cultural Officer
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