Learning how to ride the boom and bust economy

These turbulent, challenging and sometimes volatile times we find ourselves living in are making many of us rethink how we do business, how we live our lives and how we engage with the world. Unless you are hiding under the doona, the rest of us are witnessing and experiencing a major transition from the Industrial Revolution to a brave new world of the New Tech paradigm.

This transition is exciting and frightening at the same time because the “new order” is not ordered at all. It keeps changing at a rapid rate, leaving a constant sense of unease. Many of the old rules no longer apply and people are left feeling restless and confused. Some are thriving, of course, because they love the excitement of so many options and so much change.

However, with too much choice how do we sort through so much information to make good decisions for ourselves, our teams, our businesses, our families and so on?

Is the five-year strategic plan dead? Probably. Is the alternative not to plan at all? Probably not.

So how do we get used to this? How do we keep our focus and still be adaptable?

Welcome to the boom and bust world.

The reality is we can no longer claim to operate in a boom or bust economy, where repetitive cycles gave us some form of predictability. We now live in a boom and bust world where some businesses, communities and countries are prospering and making the most of what’s on offer, and other businesses, communities and countries are going out of “business” because they can’t, won’t or don’t adapt quickly enough to have the foundations in place to ensure their future viability.

So how can we learn to adapt and keep our heads while others around us may be losing theirs?

We’re now seeing and will continue to see some industries and businesses halve their sales revenues and watch the disappearance of margins due to commoditisation, reconstitution or irrelevance of their products. Other businesses and industries are more than doubling sales because they’re reading the signals and subsequently innovating and adapting to an ever-changing world.

Couple this with the massive restructure in consumer preferences and how they like to buy. People are now looking for connections that are real and genuine as they sort through mountains of information. They’re looking for businesses, brands and people they can trust.

Some industries will not make it. They’re fighting for relevance, trying to hold onto the old model. Recently, I was amazed to see a double page advertisement in a major Australian newspaper’s weekend magazine extolling the virtues of GP Pharmaceutical Sales Representatives and how vital they are to GPs education and our wellbeing.

However, according to a recent ABC Radio National Background Briefing report the majority of GPs don’t want to see medical sales reps; they simply don’t have the time and they can get their information from the web. Those who do want to see medical staff usually hope to garner a free lunch or some other bonus unrelated to the medicine and our wellbeing. The relevance of GP medical sales reps is dying out.

Another business model recently in the public eye is the hard copy newspaper business. What will this industry look like in five to eight years’ time? Will hard copy newspapers even exist? There’s been a dramatic and rapid drop in sales of hardcopy newspapers in Australia alone and new models are quickly stepping in to take their place.

These are two examples of high profile, powerful industries under pressure to adapt and change. Imagine the benefits of these changes. For instance, the costs of medicines going down because we as consumers are no longer funding large and expensive field sales forces. Well, one might dream…

Yet, instead of quickly adapting to change, it’s tempting to put your fingers in your ears or the doona over your head and pretend it isn’t happening. Not the best strategy for survival. Adapt or die I hear you say.

Instead of living in fear of change, here are some tips to help you navigate your way on your journey and take action to stay on top, out in front or in the game:

Assess risks: Identify and manage your risks. Engage your team and other key people (trusted outsiders) in a SWOT analysis and strategic review of your business. It’s a helpful exercise to do (SWOT = Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and gives you a good starting point with which to make decisions.

Control the controllables: Work out what you can control, what you can influence and what you cannot. Then define tactics and set out to do what you can to control and influence your thoughts, feelings and actions.

Seek out opportunities: Look for opportunities where you can grow sales, build markets, create new products or revitalise old products. A great way to look at where your business can grow is to look at four segments: 1. Current products with current customers, 2. Current products with new customers/markets, 3. New products with existing customers, and 4. New products to new customers or markets.

Make decisions: Questions deliver answers. Make sure you ask yourself key questions to help you make better decisions moving forward. For instance, decide why you are in business. Decide what you want to stand for. Decide what it is you do best and who would value and buy what you do. Decide if your current business model is still viable or not. Work out the decisions you need to make and then make them. Indecision is the worst thing you can do. Even if you make a wrong decision it is better than no decision.

Solve problems: What problems do you need to solve in your business? Ask your people for ideas and input. Are these problems worth solving? Are they solved via other means other than what we are used to? Sort it out and then get on out there and solve them. No point doing a “BMW” (bitch, moan and whinge).

We are indeed living and working in more challenging and unprecedented times. I propose that BAU (business as usual) is now a redundant term. The 21st century is all about being adaptable, innovative and quick on your feet as well as being a good listener and remaining patient and calm. Not your normal bedfellows.

I propose we are now experiencing the paradox of “AND”, where we live with ambiguity and need to incorporate ideas and actions that did not go together in the past. In order to thrive, not just survive, we need to get used to this “AND world” and learn to live as comfortably as we can within the ambiguity and changes that surround us every day.

That said, many people are not comforted by these changes or even by my suggestions. However, our success lies in how we approach any change. During any time, especially turbulent times, there is one constant – the power of choice.

We are never without choice in any situation and how we choose to respond. So make a decision and choose what is best for you, your people, your business, your customers, your family and beyond. Build your resilience, learn to ride the waves. Don’t sit back and simply worry because worrying doesn’t fix anything, it just makes it tougher for you.

There is a wise Buddhist saying: “If there is a problem you can fix, why worry? If there is a problem you cannot fix, why worry?”

Welcome to the world of boom and bust – enjoy the ride.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

This article was first published in November 2011.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit www.barrett.com.au


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