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Business Strategy Ignorance Is Not Bliss: Stop Running Your Business Like It Is

I was driving to work this morning in what I would consider the worst weather we have had in a long time. Here in Vancouver, we have been getting inches of rain for the past week and according to next week’s forecast, the future does not look any brighter. We had a wonderful summer but now it seems like someone is trying to punish us for that. I felt like just turning my car around and going home. How nice it would be to stay there and sip hot cocoa until this weather gets better. I wanted to be like a rabbit, remaining in its seemingly safe little nest. 

In my area, business is in recession, unless you’re working on government related construction projects. The commercial climate is just as depressing as the weather that I described above. According to industry news, this won’t be over anytime soon either. Oil prices, along with commodity prices, are not budging in the foreseeable future. Since the area around Modern is heavily resource-based, this means business will be down for a while. I am looking at businesses around me and they seem to be doing the rabbit in the hole routine. They are hunkering down and waiting out the storm, until it either gets better or their business fails. Call me crazy, but I don’t find this comforting. It’s like sitting on death row for your business. The end appears to be imminent, with the only possible glimmer of hope being some compassionate entity turning the economy and your business around. 

The problem with many companies is that when adversity strikes, many go into hiding hoping that it will go away soon. Having survived many an economic downturn, I can tell you that this strategy does not work very well. Many businesses have gone down on my watch for doing this exact thing. If they’re not hiding, businesses go into what I call drastic amputation mode. They just start cutting and cutting, either their spending or their staff. More often than not this cutting results in these businesses perishing sooner because they have cut strategic resources that would have allowed them to continue longer, and even possibly survive the downturn. An example of a cut you absolutely do not want to make is your sales force.

Many companies consider salespeople a necessary evil. They are portrayed in the media as people with brilliant smiles and heavy gold jewelry. There are many other less than desirable portrayals that I could go on and on about. Anyway, salespeople seem to be the first to be laid off. I think it’s because we believe there is no business to be had out there in a recession, so it won’t hurt to cut them. Some call this consolidation, but I call this corporate suicide.

A long time ago, I attended a prominent speaker’s seminar. He spoke about growing a business exponentially in a typical single digit growth market. He showed the numbers to the audience and then asked us if we wanted the secret to his success in this market. We were all curious, and asked for the answer. His answer was so simple that we thought he was toying with our intelligence. “Hire more salespeople. There is a direct correlation between the number of salespeople and business growth!” he said. Simple, right? So if this is truly the case in a single digit growth industry, then it should be true when business is slow in industries like ours.

When things are slow, you need to take advantage of every opportunity out there. If you cut your salespeople, then you may not see the opportunities available to you. Without seeing them, you won’t be able to take advantage of them even when things get better. Your salespeople will be able to obtain opportunities that allow your company to survive the downturn, and at the same time, be able to take advantage of new opportunities sooner once business improves.

Being able to recover sooner will also ensure survival because your salespeople will allow you to see these opportunities sooner than your competition who cut their sales force.

I know that this is contrary to everything you see happening out there right now. The truth is that it’s better than burrowing yourself into a hole, waiting for the potential end to come. No matter how miserable it is out there, you need to keep your salespeople working hard. They’re the driving force behind your economic growth, and they can help your business survive the tough times.