For many smart companies, the next six months will require radical change in order to adapt to a project-by-project world.
Those that will make it are those that are not only close to their customers, but also ahead of their markets.
Consumers are going to be slow to regain their confidence, especially business customers, and fast to pay down their credit and mortgage debt as they expect increasing political turbulence and rising real costs of doing business.
Under these conditions, there are 10 keys to managing the change from long production runs and forward contracts to just-in-time production and extended terms of trade.
Increasingly consumers will turn to online sources of advertising and immediate deals to make impulse purchases and take up viral marketing offers.
1. Read blogs
Viral marketing encourages people to take up and run with marketing messages spread through a reputable blogger or sent in the form of a text message, image, email, video clip, advergame, brandable software, etc, that leads to an online purchase. Smart companies have to shift to a 24/365 mindset to be active players in this emergent world.
According to data from the 2011 Digital Marketer more than half of all sales and service contracts won by small business arise from networking and word-of-mouth referrals.
As more and more people tell others of their great experiences, smart companies are offering come-back rewards to customers who tip-off their friends.
Rewarding employees that bring in new business rather than those doing more of the same is another key to expanding the business. This means encouraging use of new media, creating new channels and constantly converting visitors to customers, and new customers to advocates.
4. Follow up
In the old world it was safe to close a sale and move on to the next one. The key change here is to learn that staff should never think of closing a sale, but instead focus upon opening a brand relationship and building a value chain. This means finding ways to follow up an early contact with a lifetime sense of membership.
5. Active engagement
Employees need to be involved in three ways:
- First, their input and suggestions should be solicited in business renewal sessions that find ways to add something new and different.
- Secondly, failures must be facilitated through communication of lessons learned rather than focusing upon what went wrong.
- Finally, everyone needs to be encouraged to rapidly respond to the parts that worked rather than the bits that didn’t.
6. Break down the walls
As companies take on more project-by-project work in small and medium enterprises, it becomes critical to move away from Fordist, segmented production line thinking to a point-of-contact approach.
The customer wants one point of contact that is both simple and seamless rather than being treated like a parcel being moved around the company call centres.
7. Tell your story
Let people know what you are doing and that you are listening to your customers and responding to novel requests. Customers want to feel listened to, and turn up where the vibes are user-friendly. Establish and maintain an online presence, people want to be able to see your story and have you meet their expectations.
8. Generate traffic
Use electronic and social media to offer purchasing suggestions to grow your market share once you have built up online hits and viral traffic.
The prevalence of mobile phones and web-connected tablets replacing laptops means that, as a small business owner, your online reputation is just as important as your advertising spend if you are going to generate traffic.
9. Take risks
Rediscover the freedom that comes with being a start-up enterprise by taking a few more risks. Only by offering something a bit different – adding the chilli taste to the hot chocolate – can smart companies hope to stand out from the crowd.
10. Project management
Ultimately it comes down to on time, online and on budget. Success can be its own worst enemy if your business is not ready to make these changes part of day-to-day life rather than one-off responses.
Project management makes exceptions into expertise in the project-by-project world.
Dr Colin Benjamin is an entrepreneurship and strategic thinking consultant at Marshall Place Associates, which offers a range of strategic thinking tools that open up a universe of new possibilities for individuals and organisations committed to applying the processes of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship. Colin is also a member of the global Association of Professional Futurists.