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SMBs, economic downturns, and opportunity

Now, more than ever, marketing for the SMB will be critical. As we stare down the barrel of this economic mess we are in, it’s time to make some cold, hard decisions. As business owners, these decisions might be around staff (who can you keep, who might need to move on, and who can’t you afford to lose) and making sure that you get through this. There are many ways to get through any turbulent time. It’s been done before. However, in my estimation this particular point in time requires a call to action that has never been sounded before. This one will require real planning, foresight, and guts. This one will require change. Actual change. Not talk about change but real change. Tired of politicians talking about change? They have no clue what change is for the SMB. Are you ready and willing to change? If yes, read on, and if no, well, I guess I can offer you “good luck.”

Here are five quick points that I feel will make or break the SMB in the next 12-24 months.

  1. Perform a complete examination and analysis of all current marketing and sales efforts. If you think that cutting spending in this area is a good way to protect yourself during this time, you will regret the move. If you cannot be objective enough to truly analyze this mission-critical area and accept the need for change and adjustment, then you are just quitting. Find the funds to hire outside help in this area immediately if you think it would help you to gain an objective point of view.
  2. Serve your current customers as never before. If you think you give excellent customer service, then don’t rest on your laurels. Step up the intensity of your efforts to make sure your current customer base has few (if any) reasons to shop around. In a downturn, they will be able to find better pricing as your competition does whatever it takes to bring in new business. If you are lacking in customer service and don’t tend to your clients as well as you could, move this activity up to or near the top of your priorities. Change how you treat those customers you already have.
  3. Don’t compromise. Change and compromise are related but not the same. Change is a result of identifying an area of weakness and making the necessary adjustments to strengthen that weak spot. Compromise often requires “giving in” on an area of strength in order to do something else. An area to hold fast on and not compromise is price. If you start to “fire sale” your services, you devalue them in more than just price. Now is the time to hold steady on price. One way to “compromise” might be to simply deliver more value through greater efficiency for the money.
  4. Sell like you have never sold before. I have heard many business people say that they get their business from referrals so they don’t need to “sell.” That’s just ridiculous. You might get a lot of referrals indeed, but what about the people who need your product or service but don’t know anyone who could refer your offerings to them? As your competition hits this slippery slope, there might be more opportunity out there than ever before. If you are not there right at the moment of need, one of your competitors will snatch up this sale because you were sitting back waiting for a referral.
  5. Stop talking about using the Internet to support and grow your business and just do it. This is the most efficient way to generate leads for sales, bar none. I contend that the use of Internet marketing and social media will make or break all SMBs during these tough times. People who are looking for direction are turning more and more to Google to give them real guidance on their options. If you are not participating in that part of the marketing game, you will suffer. Even your current customers will check out where you stand with regard to the competition in the search engines. If you continue to ignore this now essential element of any successful marketing plan, then you are simply inviting failure to come sit at the table with you. Why risk it?

This is not rocket science. This is not anything that you haven’t HEARD before. What it might very well be, though, is something that you have not ACTED on before. This time around if you choose to ride it out and not take a proactive stance you may be setting yourself up for years of struggle even when things get better. I think the risk of taking these actions is significantly lower than the risk of not taking them. Of course, as always it’s your call, but don’t complain if your inaction leads to trouble. No one wants to hear complaints from someone who did nothing to avoid trouble. They’ll just make a referral to someone else who gets it.

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