How to Put a Stalled Economy Behind You

If we’ve learned anything over the past couple of years it’s that nothing is easy. No matter what the product or the industry, doing business––and staying in business––is no picnic. While the state of the economy sets certain parameters, we do ourselves a disservice if we believe that it necessarily determines whether we succeed or fail. An incredible focus, in-depth experience and a vision of what can happen if you work hard enough all play a role in your success.

Here are eight more qualities that can contribute to business success, no matter what’s happening in the economy.

1. Take actions for a reason. During the recession of the early 1980s, Coca-Cola panicked as its 52% market share plummeted to 24%. In response, the company threw out its 100-year-old formula and came up with a taste more like that of its rival, Pepsi-Cola, in an effort to stop its losses. It’s still known as the dumbest decision ever made by a company. After three months the old formula was back and it’s still known as Classic Coke and Coca-Cola was ready to regain the lead. The failure to think through the implications of decisions can be costly.

2. Perceived value is real value. Even in the most difficult of circumstances, experts often advise against major price-cutting and advocate a value-driven strategy. Hyundai, the auto manufacturer, is amassing new customers with its value, safety and 100,000-mile assurance program. It was the same with Applebee’s restaurants. When their customers dropped down to fast food, business sank. But Applebee’s responded with a value offering “two meals for under $20” that is pulling back lost customers.

3. Urgency is in. Not long ago, someone overheard an employee say, “Well, the customer just needs to understand that….” No matter what we might think, that’s a killer comment, as are these: “We can take care of that tomorrow” or “Do we really need to do that?” Urgency is often the edge that attracts customers.

4. Never listen to those who think they have all the answers. Anyone wanting answers should spend time listening to talk shows. What you won’t hear, however, is anyone asking questions and it’s questions that uncover problems and help make improvements.

5. Doubt your perspective. When urged to change General Motor’s corporate deeply inbred culture, its former CEO, Fritz Henderson, is reported to have said, “But that’s all I know.” This candid response told the story. He and his management team were prisoners of their own perspective. Under a new CEO from outside GM, they were quickly replaced. To one degree or another we’re all prisoners. To make meaningful contributions we need to set ourselves free.

6. Watch out for subversives. These people are skilled at undermining and derailing action. They’ll do just about anything to avoid getting things done. Using clever delaying tactics, they put on the brakes and they always find an excuse for not getting around to reviewing a project, preparing a proposal or following up. They’re in every organization, from top to bottom and particularly in between. They call meetings, not to get things moving, but to stop anything from happening. The best solution is to help them find a job with a competitor.

7. Encourage customers to pick your company’s “brain.” Every business has proprietary information that must be guarded. At the same time, sharing ideas, insights, experience and helpful information is one of the most effective ways to draw prospective customers into a company’s orbit. White papers, newsletters and timely bulletins are the tools for communicating value.

Yet, companies turn off prospects without knowing it. Today, I received six e-mails offering reports or information that caught my interest. But when I went to “click here” the free offer was conditional. In each case, I was required to provide complete contact information, including a telephone number in several cases. The offer was simply bait to get what the company wanted; at the same time, its value was totally diminished.

The goal is to impress customers with what you know, not drive them away by taking advantage of them. There’s no need to hog-tie prospects when the power of your information will pull the serious ones to you.

8. Watch out for bandwagon thinking. A marketing consultant tells of a meeting where the sales manager said the company needed to get into social media or be left in the dust. Although he was making an important point it’s also “bandwagon” thinking. And it’s dangerous because it’s seductive, taking our minds off reality-based issues.

A few years ago, e-mail “blasts” were the “answer,” before that it was fax “blasts.” Companies wasted billions of dollars on endless lists and frenzied distribution––all with little or no results. The way to avoid such costly traps is to do your homework––first.

Doing business is never easy, in spite of what some may say. The tasks ahead may be more demanding than ever and certainty of success may always be a question. Yet, we have the tools to put a troublesome economy behind us, if that’s what we decide to do.

John R. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm. He writes for a variety of business publications and speaks on business, marketing and sales issues. Contact: 40 Oval Road, Quincy, MA 02170; 617-328-0069;; Blog:;