Strategies For Navigating An Economic Slowdown

Mukesh Gupta

We are all living in a once-in-a-lifetime situation. Entire countries and even continents are forced to stay at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries are looking forward to gradually opening up the lockdowns and allowing people to restart work, albeit in a controlled fashion. This means the work we return to, in all likelihood, will not be the same as before the pandemic.

Regardless of whether you are an entrepreneur or an intrapreneur or a business leader, we all need to figure out what the new normal looks like.

Almost everyone who is in the prediction business is forecasting that the next few months will not be easy for many kinds of businesses. People might lose jobs. Businesses that don’t find ways to bring in new customers could wind down and create more job losses.

It is in this environment that I saw a presentation by Porus Munshi for TiE Surat. I am privileged to know him, having worked with him in the past. In the session, he shares his insights on what businesses can learn from the past and other businesses about finding, retaining, and delighting customers. If you have time, I strongly urge you to watch the video. In this post, I will describe some of the strategies that he shares in the video and add some thoughts of my own.

Strategy 1: Seek —> Sense —> Respond

As humans, when we sense danger, we typically respond in one of three ways: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. Typically, when organizations face a crisis situation, they react in a similarly, doing one of the following:

  • Ignore: They wait for things to come back to normal, i.e., how things were before the crisis. They think, by not acknowledging the magnitude of change brought by the crisis, that they will not have to respond. These businesses act as if nothing has changed. They are the most at risk of going out of business.
  • React: These organizations will actively fight the situation. They will do more of what they did in the past and double-down on their existing programs (e.g., marketing, sales, production, procurement). These organizations will find that the environment has changed in so many different ways that their past strategy will no longer work. This will create frustration not only to the people in their business but also in their ecosystem (e.g., partners and customers).
  • Respond: These businesses will seek to understand what is happening around them. They will try to make sense of the changes and then figure out the best response to them. These are the businesses that show that in every crisis lie great opportunities.

Your goal should be to seek, sense, and respond: Set yourself up to seek what is happening around you, make sense of it, and then create an informed, strategic response.

Strategy 2: Shift your mindset from crisis to opportunity

One of the first things we need to do to change our behavior is to change our mindset and belief system. Consider the following example.

Let’s say you decide that you want to buy a car and have shortlisted a specific model. Suddenly, you start seeing this car everywhere you go. But there are not really more of that model car on the road; rather, you are noticing it a lot more than you used to. This happens because the act of shortlisting that specific model tells your subconscious mind that this car is important for you. So, it does not filter it out as noise.

The same thing happens with everything else. If you train your mind to see opportunity, you will see it all around you. If you train your mind to see crisis, you will see it all around you. This is especially true in times of crisis. When you see crisis all around you, it takes a conscious effort to see opportunities.

Strategy 3: Be in service to your customers

One way to look at opportunities is to find ways to add value and stay in service to your customers, prospects, partners, or society at large.

We all can learn from the story of a surgical shop in Kerala. When COVID-19 began spreading and there was a spike in demand for face masks, shops started to hoard them and sell them at a premium. However, a surgical shop in Kerala’s Kochi acted like a good Samaritan and made the masks available at a price of R2 per piece to those in most need: hospitals and medical teams. They bought the masks at R10 per piece and sold them at R2, incurring a loss of R8 per mask. They sold more than 5,000 masks within two days. They did this in service to their customers and prospects and also for the society at large.

We need to remember that in times of crisis, emotions run high. In this situation, if someone takes care of you, the chances are that you will remember their act of service and respond in kind when the opportunity presents. This is not to say that the surgical shop’s owners acted on the potential quid pro quo; this only works when you truly act in service without expecting any kind of return.

Strategy 4: Do a Fosbury Flop

In his talk, Porus shares the story of how one man, Dick Fosbury, changed the way athletes do the high jump. He thought through the science of gravity and, at the 1968 Olympics, jumped back-first, the opposite of what everyone else was doing, and won the gold medal in the event.

We can bring that same level of focus to our business and do a Fosbury Flop. You can be certain that at this time of crisis, every one of your competitors will be fighting to sell their products or services to customers.

What if instead, you focused on getting your customers more business? What if you could come up with unique ways of promoting your customers’ business? Regardless of the results you get, you will get noticed. And if you get good results (which is not only possible but also very likely if you apply your creativity), you not only get your customers’ attention but also their loyalty for the long term.

The reason is because of a simple hack of how humans work. When you are trying to brainstorm ways to increase your business, you are likely to get stuck and not get truly creative ideas. This is because you are too close to your business and the risk of failure, and that might keep you and your team from following breakthrough ideas.

However, if you try to come up with ideas for someone else’s (i.e., your customers’) businesses, your creative juices will flow easily and you can come up with some really creative ways to promote their business.

Brainstorm ideas about what you would typically do and then try and find a way to go in the opposite direction. If you would typically increase your ad spend, decrease it. If you would usually go aggressive on discounting, try to come up with a service to increase your pricing. You get the point.

Strategy 5: Seek the other side of the moon

It is a well-known fact that we only see one side of the moon from anywhere on Earth. This is because of “tidal locking.” Just like the moon has other sides we can’t see, in every situation or challenge, we tend to see only one face or perspective of the problem. The moment we recognize that and look for different perspectives, we can come up with interesting and creative solutions.

In the same way, look at how you are prospecting and the value you bring to your prospects and customers. Is there a different perspective that you can see for:

  • A new way to add value to your customers?
  • A new way to find prospects?
  • A new way to convert your prospects to customers faster?

All of these are great ways to bring in additional revenue that could be unique to you and your way of doing business.

Porus talks about the “Pure for Impure” strategy run by jeweler Tanishq, where the company exchanged impure gold jewelry for pure jewelry at no extra cost. This strategy moved it from being a loss-making unit to an extremely profitable unit and established it as the gold standard in gold jewelry in India.

Porus also talks about another jewelry store that takes the consumer’s view. Instead of talking about design or hiring expensive models for its ad, the CEO talks about the best way to buy gold jewelry. He shines the light on hidden charges consumers typically pay when buying jewelry and thereby differentiates his business from his competitors. Instead of focusing on the product, he focuses on the consumer’s perspective.

Strategy 6: Create an ecosystem

Porus also talks about how someone’s problem could be your solution, and how your problem could be the solution to someone else’s problem. You just need to find the people who can solve your problem or whose problem you can solve. The question is: how do you find these potential partners.

In most cases, they are hiding within your existing value chain. You just need to look for them consciously. They might be one of your vendors, or your vendor’s customers, or your customer’s vendors, or your customer’s customers, or even your competitor’s vendors. They may even be one of your competitors operating in a different market from yours. You just need to look for them.

You can also explore partnering with unusual partners. Apply the strategy of going in the opposite direction from everyone else. For example, if you find out that all of your competitors are partnering with large systems integrators (SIs), then find startups or smaller SIs in the same field and partner with them. By enabling them to become successful, you create your success.

Applying the strategy of the other side of the moon, reflect on the different perspectives of how you engage with your partners and see if there are opportunities to expand your relationship. Explore whether you can compete not as individual firms but as an ecosystem or a conglomeration of firms, thereby increasing your marketing and sales muscles. Explore whether you can partner with others who also sell to your customer category and see if you can help each other out.

In conclusion

Each one of these strategies applied in isolation can accelerate growth for your business. However, the true power of these strategies is unleashed when you use many of them and build upon one another. Combined, they can bring about remarkably creative strategies to grow your business. These strategies can be applied to all businesses, irrespective of their size or the industry they operate in.

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About Mukesh Gupta

Mukesh has more than 2 decades of experience in starting and growing organisations. He has written three books including “Thrive” & “Your Startup Mentor” and has an upcoming book on B2B Selling. In his role as Director - Customer Advocacy, he works closely with the SAP User groups in India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand and actively represents them within SAP and brings the united face of SAP to the user groups. He has an active blog called “Musings of a Salesman” and hosts the popular podcast “Pushing Beyond the Obvious”.