I love recessions.
Unlike the good times, recessions produce real winners and real losers. The stakes are incredibly high. Like a proverbial hanging in the morning, recessions focus your mind. And your business.
The winners always figure out how to get ahead during a down cycle. Most of the time, they do this by changing the rules of the game. And they do this by changing the essence of their game. While the winners are doing this, losers are whining about how hard it is to land a new sale or keep good people or come up with an innovative solution to their customers’ problems. Winners spend time trying to figure out stuff that’s never been figured out before. Losers spend time doing the same old stuff and complaining that it doesn’t work “like in the good old days.”
A lot of folks in business are saying it’s tough sledding today. And, no doubt, market conditions are hard.
But, is “hard” a bad thing? Or is it really opportunity dressed up in a terrific outfit few notice?
Take print distribution for a minute. This has to be one of the economy’s more sensitive sectors. You have all sorts of commodity inputs soaring higher. You generally see every customer and prospect looking for ways to crush expenses. You even have the relentless march from print molecules toward digital electrons.
Can there possibly be an uglier segment than this? (OK, I’ll give you the airline industry…that one is probably hopeless!).
If you are a print distributor, you have to be asking yourself: “What am I doing and what purpose am I serving and why is it so hard?”
As the executive vice president for looking out the window for a high-tech web-software firm that helps a lot of distributors in the print business, I spent a few hours one morning recently (looking out the window) imagining myself as a print distributor, wondering what would I do.
Here are some thoughts that occurred to me:
1. Once the recession is over, I wondered if my print distribution business could be in a different business, what might that be?
2. And then I wondered, “What if I transformed my business and its abilities to manage products, suppliers, programs and e-commerce technology, etc. into an execution firm instead of a distribution business?”
3. And, “What if I called on a bunch of marketing executives in my area and asked them to have a conversation over coffee with me about how they plan to execute their branding and messaging programs in an increasingly competitive and cost-conscious and climate-challenged environment? Do they have the execution resources, people and technology to pull it off?”
4. And then I wondered if there are any marketing execution firms in my area that know how to do this as well as my firm? I even looked up marketing execution firms in the yellow pages and couldn’t find anything listed. And then on Google I found a lot of usual ad agency suspects but very little out there in the form of competition that offers a blend of production know-how to supplier management to program/logistics execution to e-commerce technology savvy.
5. Finally, I wondered what if I took all that know-how, packaged it up and positioned my business as a leading marketing execution firm (or agency) intent on saving my customers money; helping them more effectively execute their brand promise and message, driving greener programs for them and letting them utilize really good e-commerce technology for free in their businesses. If I could deliver all of this, would my business (formerly known as a print distributor) be a winner?
My answer to that last question isn’t important. But yours is. It’d be great to hear your thoughts.
Meantime, here’s to your successful search for answers that set you apart as a winner. And recognizing, like a lot of other winners, that a recession is a terrible thing to waste.