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Time to stab the wounded?

Time to stab the wounded?

CrosshairsAn old saying is that auditors arrive after the battle and enter the battlefield to finish off the wounded…

The events of 2008 and 2009 were a serious battlefield in many business sectors, with lots of failed and severely damaged businesses littering the landscape. A colleague expressed it in these words: “Those that survived the downturn often did so by using their reserves. They now are in business but in a vulnerable position with little or no reserves to fall back on. The ones who had no reserves when the downturn hit are not around anymore.” A harsh analysis perhaps but with much validity in many areas of business.

The euphoria of the successful Soccer World Cup and the air of optimism about the end of the recession is a good time to reflect where your business stands. Are you still skating on thin ice, where any major reversal right now will destroy you? Are you so overburdened by debt you find it difficult to trade? Or are you in a better shape than that, with limited but positive cash flows and some reserves?

If you fall into that latter category you may choose to start right now with a major and aggressive marketing campaign designed to take market share away from those competitors who are worse off than you.

At first this does not sound like a particularly nice thing to do. It seems unkind, perhaps even unethical to deliberately target market share that may be propping up wounded businesses. After all we all like entrepreneurs and want them to succeed – unless in doing so they hurt us!

You will have to work out your own feelings on this issue, but I suggest that your social conscience should be directed at helping struggling entrepreneurs who will eventually be allies, rather than aiding struggling competitors. Do you really want to support and strengthen those businesses which, when stronger, will fight you for your markets?

There is a very clear opportunity right now for alert and self confident businesses to attack their markets aggressively and almost certainly gain in market share at the expense of less able or more timid competitors.

The first steps in this process must be to identify the safety first steps that will have been built into your business during the bad times. All businesses adopt a defensive posture when times are tough, and while some of these tactics may still be very helpful, some are bound to be in conflict with an aggressive approach. Look for things like bureaucratic sign off for actions, which may be stifling your people’s creativity. Turn off any defensive tactic that could cost you mobility, remembering that nobody likes to let go of controls once they are in place. Be ruthless if need be, but always assess the level of risk you are prepared to take and undo protective measures only as far as you are prepared to risk.

Then decide what you are prepared to spend in money and other resources and get agreement internally – especially from your accountant. Remember one of the tasks of the accountant is to take risk out of the business and be conservative. That is why pre agreement is vital – you don’t want anyone obstructing your plans as they unroll.

Next choose your ground carefully – in military parlance you want to win a battle with minimal casualties to you, so choose ground where you are strong and the competitors are weaker. This could mean a sudden increase in focused marketing promotions, price reductions, concentrating your sales force in one area, offering attractive terms of sale on particular product lines or cornering the market for raw materials. Or many other possible attack strategies – think outside the box as well as the rational actions. Set the project time frame and put some milestones in place.

And lastly, define the measures you will use to assess your performance, record and report on progress and monitor the results at fixed times which you stick to. Never be tempted to gloss over reports, or the information they contain because they are telling you things you don’t want to hear. If your initiative is not working then fix it or stop it.

But if you have done your planning well, if you are daring enough to strike hard and repeatedly while others are just emerging from cautious shells, and if you bring your organisation along with you, this could be one of the really great times of your company.

About Ed Hatton
Ed Hatton had a successful career in sales and marketing management in the IT industry before launching consulting company The Marketing Director almost 20 years ago. Ed is passionate about entrepreneurs and the need to develop the SME sector. He co-authored a textbook on Entrepreneurship and writes the advice column “Start Up Coach” for Entrepreneur Magazine.
More information is available here or send Ed an e-mail
About The Marketing Director
This consulting company advises and mentors small and medium enterprises with a particular focus on strategy, marketing and sales, and the inter-relationship between these disciplines. The company has been operational for almost 20 years and has consulted to a wide range of IT, manufacturing, services based, and distribution SMEs. The success ratio of client companies is far ahead of industry norms, meaning that clients of The Marketing Director are generally high flyers in their sectors, and survivors when other fail.
More information is available here, or by e-mail

©copyright  Ed Hatton. All rights reserved. You may republish this article or extracts from it provided you acknowledge me as the author and acknowledge my copyright.

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