It's time to hit the bottom line. The issue in the 1990s is taking business away from your competition. If you want more business, often it must come from a pie that isn't getting any bigger. What's true for your company also is true for your competitors. If they want more business, it's going to come out of your sales!
Therefore, taking a wait-and-see attitude is more dangerous than ever. The only prudent move is to ``bulletproof'' your business so you'll be ready when competitors' guns start firing.
Unfortunately, when it comes to marketing and sales, many businesses refuse to take the necessary action to prepare for extended periods when competition is unusually severe.
The major task is to bulletproof your busines so that you're well protected from any type of attack. Even though this concept may seem obvious, few businesses really are prepared when trouble comes over the horizon-either in the form of aggressive competition or a changing economy. Most simply hope for the best.
Nevertheless, there are practical steps a business can take to guarantee its future. Whatever the reason, it's possible to be ready when the Huns come over the mountains.
What will happen if you, the owner or dealership manager, follow this strategy? In the best of times your business will be even better! Meanwhile, should a competitor try to shoot you down, your business won't be so vulnerable.
Here are seven strategies that will provide the armor to keep your business moving forward.
1) Never, never stop worrying. Those who think they have it all figured out deserve the worst-and they'll get it. Companies in business 50 or more years close their doors every day.
Staying on top demands a high level of awareness of new ideas and concepts. That's today's intensity. Those who think they've reached the pinnacle are already going down the other side.
2) Never take any customer for granted. Salespeople talk about ``owning'' a customer or having a territory ``wrapped up.'' That's yesterday's thinking. It's what we continue doing for customers that counts-not what we did earlier.
3) Never think you've got all the business you need. Amazing as it seems, there are businesses that honestly believe they have a corner on the market. Like people, companies also can develop a false comfort level. They like things moving along smoothly. No pain. Little strain. This permeates every level of their operation.
It's these businesses that are at the top of their competitors' hit lists. They're particularly vulnerable because complacency has seeped into everything they do. Their customers begin to sense it, too. It comes across as arrogance.
4) Never assume you really know your customers. One of a salesperson's primary roles is to gather information on customers: What's happening to them? What changes are taking place? What problems are they facing? What difficulties are they encountering in the marketplace? What are their opportunities?
Without answers to these questions, you can't meet their needs. All you can do is react and put out fires.
5) Never assume tomorrow is going to be better than today. This is not to suggest that it's wise to think of the future as a disaster. Rather, the intention is to emphasize the need for viewing the future as highly unpredictable-to assume trouble lies around every corner!
This sense of uncertainty can be useful because it drives us to ask the key questions: What should we be doing now to make it difficult for a competitor to gain a foothold? What would happen if we lost our key customers? What should we be doing to stimulate new business two years from now?
We ignore the future if we assume tomorrow will automatically be better.
6) Never stop selling your company to customers. Customers must ``buy'' your company before they buy its products and services. If they're merely buying what you sell, chances are, they won't be doing business with you for very long. A company's major task is to do everything possible to cause the customer to want to do business with it first and foremost.
7) Never develop a reputation for having the lowest price. A price-driven business is a candidate for trouble. If the lowest price is all you can offer customers, you're sending them a message that there's no other reason to buy from your company. Someone else will come along and undercut your price in order to get their business.
The job of bulletproofing isn't just an option for any company today. It is the very basis for keeping the business strong and growing. It requires planning, consistent attention and intensity. But the results always are worth the effort.
Mr. Graham is president of Graham Communications, a marketing services and sales consulting firm in Quincy, Mass.