SI Review: May 2011

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Expert’s Corner

Continuing the Buzz

How to strengthen your business and impress clients

Coming on the heels of a few brutal years of economic and industry malaise, the 2011 Staffing Industry Analysts Executive Forum was a breath of fresh air. The March event was full of company leaders and executives looking to make deals and attend sessions focused on topics like increasing revenue and growing a company — subjects that were sorely lacking since, oh, 2007 or so.

The nicest part of it all was the buzz. There was a palpable hive of activity, just as when we emerged from the 2001-2002 economic downturn.

Time to Work

Often, excitement from such events falters after the fact, becoming part of an endless hype cycle. Many business leaders, intending to put into action things they learn at such conferences, find themselves getting caught up in day-to-day business activities and never follow through. There are things that can be done to avoid that fate. Here, I offer my recipe for building on the outcomes of events like the Executive Forum, to strengthen your business and impress clients.

Get your financial house in order. Several recent studies indicate that the financial stability of suppliers is among the most important decision-making criteria for buyers. Credit lines for many industry players — big and small alike — were pulled or severely curtailed in the past few years, leading to high levels of stress for executives, their employees and their customers. With financial lending markets recovering (or at least stabilizing), you’ve got the chance to firm up your credit engine and build the foundation for your growth.

Build a growth-based business strategy. Growth doesn’t just happen. And it’s not a function of selling harder. In order to build a path to top-line revenue expansion, a company needs to establish a focused set of relevant growth-based objectives along with corresponding strategies and tactics that support those objectives. It’s strategy 101, but going back to the basics may be just what you and your company need right now.

Most important, communicate this strategy to your people throughout the organization. Do it yourself or have your leadership team present it to their teams. Either way, make sure your people understand where the company is going.

Invest in your sales team. You can’t grow without your sales team being built for growth. That means adding productive new business development people who hunt for new sales and don’t just sell to your existing customer base. (You want to focus your current sales team on growing your existing base of customers.) These new sales resources will benefit the company in many ways, but in addition to the new revenue that comes with new customers, your company will gain new momentum and maybe, just maybe, a bit of swagger. And that’s a good thing for anyone who’s been getting their head banged in by buyers who’ve been saying “no” for the past few years.

And while you’re adding new sales folks, make sure you pay them not only what they’re worth, but also for the value they bring into your business. (See “Beyond Numbers,” page 20.)

Build a messaging strategy to propel your sales team. I struggle with the term “brand.” It means too many things to too many different people. And it’s very hard to measure the overall success of a brand, particularly when you’re focusing on financial returns. I’d much rather see companies invest in developing a messaging program that will differentiate themselves and help their sales and marketing teams carve out a niche in a very crowded marketplace. 

Successful messaging programs start with your customers and prospects. Spend time with them to learn about what messages and approaches resonate with them. I suggest these queries be part of a conversation, not a survey. To truly learn about how a customer thinks, you need to talk to them over a cup of coffee or a meal. And you need to ask questions you may not want to know the answers to, such as “Why do you do business with us?”, “What don’t we do well?” and “Which of our competitors do you respect and why?” You may wince at the responses, but you’ll learn a ton.

When you’re done gathering input, put together sales messages that are compellingly relevant to your audience — and have hard examples and case studies that back them up so your customers can understand the value you deliver. Make sure they are original and not what your competition is saying. Be different. Be bold. And be dynamic.

The next year is one of those moments in business history in which leaders will have a chance to make a real difference in their companies. How companies grow out of downturns are significant indicators of how they will perform in the long run. You’ve got an awesome opportunity. Take advantage of it and enjoy the ride. You deserve it after the past few years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Jim Lanzalotto runs Scanlon.Louis, a strategy and marketing outsourcing firm that helps companies grow. He can be reached at jim@scanlonlouis.com or 610.212.5411.You can also follow him at twitter.com/jimlanzalotto.

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