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  • Geoffrey James

How to Grow Your Business in a Downturn

There's no need to panic. Stay calm and take these steps to inevitably end up on top--and even do some good in the process.

During the ever-changing coronavirus crisis, your highest priority should obviously be helping your employees, customers, and community get through the pandemic safely. Once you've done what you can, it's important to refocus on your business--and think long-term about its future. If you can keep your wits about you and stay calm and focused, you'll inevitably end up on top--and even do some good in the process. Here's how.

1. Emphasize risk avoidance in sales and marketing messages.

During good times, the most effective sales and marketing messages are built around solving problems, removing obstacles, and developing new opportunities. During uncertain times, the best sales and marketing messages are built around risk avoidance. Example:

Good times: "Our product has the highest quality and fastest ROI."

Bad times: "Our product has the lowest downtime and failure rate."

2. Focus on current customers.

Acquiring new customers is expensive under any circumstances. It's especially difficult when your prospects' mental bandwidth may be consumed by fear. This is, therefore, a time to shift your sales energy and resources toward stepping up services to your current customer base.

Don't wait until your customers call you. Proactively contact existing customers, ask them how they're coping, and offer to do what you can to help them out. Helping out before you're asked to will win long-term customer loyalty. It's also the right thing to do.

3. Make it easier for customers to keep coming back.

During an uncertain economic climate, customers are likely to be facing (or anticipate facing) cash-flow problems. You can help by creating new ways for the customer to structure the purchasing of your product. For example, if a customer is worried about next fiscal year's revenue, offer a discount for full payment this fiscal year. Or if a customer is already experiencing a short-term cash-flow issue, and you feel comfortable that they're not likely to fold up, offer to push payments out until next year.

Again, don't wait for your customers to ask. Unilaterally offer to renegotiate current contracts to make it easier for them to remain your customers.

4. Invest rather than cut costs.

During difficult times, your competitors will probably hunker down, cut costs, and try to wait the crisis out. Fair enough, but then they're taking a huge risk that they'll be caught short when better economic times come around.

Do the opposite. Assume that there will eventually be pent-up demand and position yourself to take advantage of it. Invest in new capacity and develop new product concepts. That way, when conditions improve you'll be ready to rock while your competitors will just be starting to ramp back up.

Take a page from the famously cyclical semiconductor design and manufacturing industry. The companies that do well consistently over time invest in new capacity when demand is low so that they can fulfill demand when it is high.

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