I plead guilty to enjoying a cold beer or two, and I’ve watched with amazement as the decade-long bull market in the craft beer industry shows no signs of abating.
Our nation, and our world, is going through a time of transition. At the moment, it is still uncertain how the global economy will look once the dust clears. Yet, one thing is certain; the local and international business community will never be the same. From the banking breakdown to the stock market frenzy, the landscape is changing—a shift is occurring in the way we think about business development.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Business development can take on many different forms depending on the size, industry or sales goals of the company. For some organizations, rethinking the way they build the business involves changing the leadership team to refocus or retool the overall direction of the company. For other organizations, it means restructuring the sales process, in an effort to maintain sales in the short term while positioning the company in the long term for new customer acquisition. Whatever form it takes, business building during a slow economy can be a long, arduous and sometimes painful endeavor; but it can also be exciting, inventive and extremely beneficial.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Rethinking Growth and Success</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Traditionally, business growth has been measured largely by bottom-line figures, such as profit margins or closed sales. However, in today’s economy, with profit margins shrinking worldwide and sales at their lowest levels in nearly 20 years, traditional business indicators may be inaccurate. Therefore, business leaders must find alternate indicators of business strength and sales performance. These indicators should allow for the realities that are the current economy, while aligning the company for growth as the economy gradually begins to expand.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>One option is to restructure the goals and objectives of the development staff.</b> Instead of measuring performance solely by money raised or sales closed, mangers could look at forming secondary goals tied to their team making measurable inroads into new industries or market segments. Given this challenge, determined salespeople can find business development during a slow economy exciting and inspiring, as it allows them the freedom to explore uncharted territory. It can also motivate them to push beyond business relationships that, historically, may have been readily accessible. Additionally, it affords mangers the opportunity to reward business-builders for developing new prospects beyond the conventional buyer.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Rethinking Traditional Sales</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>Another option is providing customers with new and innovative ways to accomplish their goals.</b> As customers’ needs and budgets change, so do their buying habits. Business leaders should talk to the staff whose job it is to be in front of the customers daily, develop an understanding of how their customer’s needs are changing, then cultivate programs or products accordingly to address their specific needs.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Hyundai Motor America did exactly this in an effort to attract buyers apprehensive about buying a car while companies continue to lay off workers. Hyundai teamed with an insurance company to offer potential buyers an assurance that would ease their fears around buying a new car: Under Hyundai's new program, if a customer can't make a payment after the first two because of "a life changing event"—such as bankruptcy or job loss—within a year of the purchase date, Hyundai will take the car back without damaging the customer’s credit. The program is not foolproof, nor is it for everyone, but it is causing customers in the market for a car to take a second look at Hyundai. In fact, an MSNBC poll showed that 47% of respondents say this program would make them more likely to buy a Hyundai. <br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> What this shows is that given enough time, and the right combination of offerings, businesses could see their sales level off in the short term and expand exponentially in the long term; simply by making a few adjustments without compromising quality, service or accountability<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <b>A Little Understanding Goes a Long Way</b><br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> Of course, such extreme offerings are not for every business. Senior management should work closely with department managers and sales staff to ensure their market is right for innovative product packaging or a new incentive program. However, if feasible, a little goodwill can go far to generate new interest or sales, as customers take advantage of a timely value from a company they perceive as understanding their needs.<br clear="none" /> <br clear="none" /> <i>Joyce Harper is an online columnist for </i>Sales & Marketing Management<i>. She is the Founder/CEO of Sharper Solutions, LLC, a management consulting firm specializing in organizational development and strategic management. She works with companies nationwide helping them create organizational effectiveness and increase their revenue building potential. Joyce is a sought after speaker, trainer and business consultant. Contact her through the company Web site at <a href="http://www.sharpersol.com" target="_blank">www.sharpersol.com</a>. </i>