What Did You Do in the Recession, Daddy?

Updated: September 10, 2009

For the past year I've heard motivational speakers and positive thinkers across the land saying "I refuse to participate in the recession." What a shame. They may have missed out on the best opportunity of their lifetimes. But it may not be too late.

Even though we seem to be on our way out of the current economic mess, if you act now, you can still get in on the goodies.

A recession presents incredible opportunity. That's not positive thinking. That's reality. I've got two young daughters and my own personal reality of a future filled with years of paying for music lessons, braces, college, maybe weddings and gosh knows what else. I can't afford to miss any opportunity, anywhere, anytime. So I chose to not only participate in the recession, I embrace it for all it's worth. I don't want to have to tell my little girls that I sat out the competitive chance of a lifetime.

I wish no ill will or misfortune on anyone, not even my competition. But this just may be the perfect time for some of my competitors to consider finding other lines of work. I feel compelled to help them in that job search.

Consider these recession realities:

  • Some of your competitors were stretched thin going into the recession. Now they are hanging on by a thread. Take just one customer away from them, and that thread may disappear.
  • Customers sense fear. They sense weakness. If your organization is strong then let the market know. In a recession customers gravitate towards strength and dependability like metal filings to magnets.
  • Many businesses go into "hunker down" mode in a recession. They pull back. They look for every place possible to cut expenses and those places often involve customers and service or employees and training. They weaken themselves in the very places they should be getting stronger.

So what can you do to take advantage of this fading recession before it's too late? Here's what you can do short term, beginning now:

  • Go see your customers. Thank them, profusely, for their business and tell them what you will do to keep them happy. Let them know how you've improved and innovated in the last few months (you have improved and innovated haven't you?). Most of all, find out how their situations have changed. Your customers today are not who they were a year or even six months ago. Their worlds have been rocked. Find out where their pain is and make it feel better.
  • Go see your competitors' customers. Recessions make people reexamine everything. They may be getting the itch to make some changes. Scratch the itch.
  • Invest in your employees. Invest money, time, training, interest and attention. If ever you've wanted your people to be your differentiator now is the time. Start having meetings again. Get everybody in the same room and let them know what's going on and how you're going to win in the months ahead.

Long term we should pay attention to what we've learned in the past couple of years. This recession has caused most people to reexamine the way they make decisions, including buying decisions. A recession clarifies. A recession makes us remember what's important in business. It can do us the favor of making us look back "inside the box."

By "inside the box" I mean your customers' basic expectations of you. A tough economy and hard times tend to take us back to basics. To position yourself well coming out of the recession, focus on the factors can differentiate you no matter what the economic conditions:

  • Be easy. Look at every process and every customer touchpoint with the intention of finding anything and everything that might make you difficult to do business with.
  • Say "yes". Find any reason or justification to say "yes" to customers. People have been hearing "no" through this entire recession, and a "yes" is like an oasis in a desert. Say "yes" early and often.
  • Be fast. Make every other business look like turtles compared to a cheetah (that would be you). Deliver quickly, return phone calls and emails quickly, respond to questions or problems quickly. Be the standard for quick response. Fast wins.
  • Be the best deal. Duh. That doesn't necessarily mean be the lowest priced. But recessions bring out the bargain hunter in all of us. We want more for our money. Never take for granted that your customers understand that you're worth what you charge. Spell it out for them. Educate your customers. It's not their job to see your value. It's your job to show them. All it may take is a realization of "Oh, I didn't understand before how that was saving me money" for you to lock in customer loyalty.
  • Be Consistent. Be unbelievably dependable. Recessions create massive uncertainty in everyone's lives. If you can be the one thing that customer know they can count on, you will win them for life.

Earlier this year I gave the keynote speech at a worldwide leadership meeting for a major corporation. Before I spoke the CEO gave the opening speech. He emotionally implored his leadership team to take advantage of the current economic situation. "This recession's not going to last forever," he said. "One day before we know it we'll wake up and this thing will be over. I just hope and pray that we don't miss our chance. We have to take advantage of this recession now!"

He wasn't being blindly optimistic or unrealistically positive. He was being smart and tough and doing his job as CEO. He was leading.

When your kids ask "What did you do in the recession?" be sure that you can look them in the eye and say "I won."

©2009 Joe Calloway, author of Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison

Author Bio
Joe Calloway,
author of Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison, is a consultant on employee engagement and performance whose client list reads like a Who's Who of business -- from newspapers in Sweden, hotels in Great Britain, and computer companies in South Africa to world brands like BMW and IBM. He speaks frequently on business trends and has been inducted into the International Speakers Hall of Fame.

For more information, visit JoeCalloway.com.

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