Tools & Technologies

How to Manage Your Business in a Recession: "#4 Your Customers Face New Problems, So Give Them New Solutions"

The January 19, 2009 edition of Fortune magazine features an article entitled “How to Manage Your Business in a Recession”, authored by Geoff Colvin (pp.66-71). Inside, Geoff lays out 10 ways to weather the current economic storm. He starts:

“Exciting as it is to be living through historic economic drama, you can’t just stand by and watch. You have to act–yet you have no script. So much of today’s turmoil is unprecedented that we can’t find much guidance by looking to the past. For managers across the global economy, as well as for Team Obama on its way to Washington, today’s great question is, What do we do now?”

Let’s take Geoff’s 10 principles, and analyze the implications for your collaboration strategy (see the links to all 10 principles). Let’s focus on #4, “Your customers face new problems, so give them new solutions”.

4. Your Customers Face New Problems, So Give Them New Solutions
Geoff states that just as the economic meltdown impacts you, so it impacts your customers … and the trick for you to stay relevant to your customers is to help them be successful during this time. He gives a couple of examples – citing a client of McKinsey that developed a slow-curing and less expensive resin when less output was required, and also CKE Restaurants approach to burger development – and states the overriding principle: “The best performers deeply understand their customers’ businesses and can respond in sophisticated ways”.

You know your customers — I don’t. And so I can’t give you the secret sauce to what you should do (surely that’s the $64,000 or $64 million question), but I can tell you how you can go about finding out.

Aggregating Ideas Out of Minds
Collaboration tools that support people having discussions about overall marketplace trends and specific customer opportunities — whether that’s a Confluence wiki, a persistent chat in Office Communications Server, Lotus Connections, Traction TeamPage, or the GroupSwim service (or … whatever) — enable ideas, observations, thoughts and reactions to be externalized out of people’s minds and into a collective system. Once it’s externalized, then it can be analyzed, discussed and debated. And specific responses can be developed based on the input of many. You want to be able to see trends, and you want to be able to link up employees with others who are facing similar challenges.

With the potential loss of employees through lay-offs or external headhunting, it is all the more important to have this data externalized and in company systems. But rather than trying to take someone’s knowledge and then get rid of them — it’s not that ethos which I’m advocating — the point and purpose of doing this is that it lays the groundwork for greater engagement between employees about how to best serve customers … and how to retain the best employees … and thus how to win in the marketplace. As one employee writes about what their customer is facing and the search for solutions, other employees have permission to jump in and offer ideas and suggestions. You get greater engagement, a greater volume of idea sharing, hopefully better quality ideas, and you make everyone feel part of a community that is looking out for each other and the common good.

Hold a Solution Jam
While you absolutely need a system to support the externalization of ideas and the discussion thereon, there will be times when you want to host a specific event to focus everyone’s concentration on a specific solution need for a specific customer. Think of it as a “solution jam” … pulling lots of relevant people together over a couple of hours or days to stimulate idea generation and solution candidates. Given that you have a system to support the externalization of ideas, you will have a pretty good sense of who is “relevant” to the discussion at hand. Look over associated postings in the system, and note the names that keep coming up. Schedule the event … it’s going to be a virtual one, so that people can contribute from where they are … find a moderator to keep everyone focused, engaged and enthusiastic … and get going. The moderator sets and distributes the agenda (focused on “what we want to achieve here”), and invites participation broadly (“visit this place at 10am tomorrow and contribute”) and specifically (by instant message, “Hey Joe, David has just posted a wild idea … what’s your reaction?”).

In terms of tools, you could use what you already have as the general system (as above), or hold it in GroupSystems ThinkTank. There are pros and cons of each, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Customer Value
You will have to make some hard-nosed decisions about which customers you will specifically focus on helping with new solutions … based on an analysis of their current and ongoing value to the organization. You have that data, right?

What Else?

What strategies of success are you embracing as the economic indicators spread fear and alarm?

Categories: Tools & Technologies