Winning in a Down Economy

By Phil Myers
August 01, 2009

What actions can we take today that will make our company a better one to do business with in this economy?


“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
an optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty.”

- Winston Churchill

We live in interesting times. The panic on Wall Street rippled quickly from the investment community into executive suites and down the line to each and every employee. Everyone is talking about how to react. What are the impacts to our nation? Our economy? Our business? Us?

How should you react? We’ve seen the full gambit in our travels. The visionaries are seeking refuge in denial and waging their bet on the “next big thing.” The conservatives are taking quick and decisive action to re-align costs to ensure survival. The pragmatists are shouting from the rooftops to focus on the things people have been buying for years. It seems virtually everyone has an opinion on what to do next. Unfortunately, we’ve found most opinions are irrelevant, and the noisiest are often dangerous!

Ignored is the most important question leaders should be asking their teams: What actions can we take today that will make our company a better one to do business with in this economy?

What are pragmatic leaders doing?

The first step to winning is to realize the rules of the game have changed…
possibly forever. We’re not in control anymore!

We wrote the Tuned In book to provide leaders, product managers, and marketers a timeless guide for how to create a business that resonates. Given the shift in market conditions, we wondered how well the principles we espouse would weather the storm of a down economy.

So, for the past sixty days, we’ve circled back to the thousands of companies and hundreds of senior executives we interview each year. We wanted to find out what was real, what was fear, and what was bravado. So our interviews focused on identifying the specific action plans leaders are creating.

Our research verified (once again) the value of being tuned in to your market. Companies who are struggling right now have fallen into the trap of chasing outcomes and guessing at what their business will become in 2009. The actions they’ve taken have largely been tactical, with a focus on cost reduction— giving executives no greater or lesser peace of mind about their prospects going forward.

On the other hand, Tuned In businesses took a much more strategic approach to the problem:

They’re busy identifying the strategy they can execute that will best align
their business to the market for the next two years—where uncertainty
is a given and cash flow liquidity a must.

Right now, leaders of these companies are behaving differently than those not Tuned In. They put little stock in the past and even less in the future. They’re focused on aligning their strategies and execution for improved performance today. They know from experience great companies and products can be built in a down economy.

One need only look to the last 10 years to realize companies such as Google, Amazon, eBay, and all emerged as leaders during the last downturn. And companies such as IBM rode an e-business services strategy to a new wave of growth.

Today’s pragmatic leaders are aligning their companies to replicate those kinds of successes. Their action plans are simple and enlightening— channeling the culture of the company and the investment of their time into six missions:

  1. Discover reality—How well are we aligned to the current market?

  2. Find the bright lights—What’s working and why?

  3. Pursue relevance—How do we make good decisions about where to invest?

  4. Narrow the focus—How do we build a competitive edge?

  5. Simplify execution—How we can make it easier to do business with us?

  6. Rally stakeholders—How can we build a strong network of supporters?

Like the six steps to getting “tuned in,” these actions are designed to create a “Down Economy Resonator”—a product or service that so perfectly solves a problem buyers have today, that it seems to sell itself.

1. Discover reality

How well are we aligned to the current market? The first step to tuning in to your Down Economy Resonator is to get out of denial and into discovering, embracing, and dealing with reality. The market has changed. Deal with it.

Making decisions without a complete and accurate view of the world you will be living in for the next several months or years is crazy! Yet, that’s exactly what many companies will do in the coming months. They’ll guess, assume, and then tell the world they’ve made changes to keep them healthy through this downturn— when, in reality, they have no idea whether or not they really are healthy enough.

Pragmatic leaders are asking their organizations to go immediately back to square one and get tuned in to their markets. No assumptions, no sacred cows. Get real, and find out what’s meaningful:

  • Does the market still care about what we do (the same, more, or less) than they did 90 days ago?

  • What are buyers’ plans for investment next year in our market segment?

  • Do we understand how buyers make decisions today?

  • How well aligned is our ability to execute:

  • Is our cash flow strong enough to last?

  • Are our products relevant to today’s market problems?

  • Is our business model flexible enough to adapt to change?

  • What bad thing would happen if we shut our doors and went away?

These are not easy questions to ask, and the answers may be even harder to hear. In Pragmatic Marketing’s seminars, attendees are challenged to break out of the mode of assuming things and start listening…really listening…to what their buyers are saying.

That’s particularly important now, because not all businesses came into this down economy with the same assets and financial strength—so a dose of reality is needed. Those with strong cash positions, relevant market segments, and a flexible business model are well aligned and can be more aggressive. Those starting from weakness in one or more of these factors have limited options.

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About the Authors

  • Phil Myers

    Pragmatic Marketing, Inc. has continuously delivered thought leadership in technology product management and marketing since it was founded in 1993.Today, we provide training and present at industry events around the world, conduct the industry’s largest annual survey and produce respected publications that are read by more than 100,000 product management and marketing professionals. Our thought-leadership portfolio includes the Pragmatic Marketing Framework, e-books, blogs, webinars, podcasts, newsletters, The Pragmatic Marketer magazine and the bestseller “Tuned In.”

    To learn more about our courses and join the growing international community of more than 80,000 product management and marketing professionals trained by Pragmatic Marketing, please click here.

Categories:  Strategy Leadership

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