Banal but not wrong
You've heard the standard admonitions that recessions are the worst time to cut back on marketing costs, and the standard carping from marketing and sales teams about the folly in management's doing so.
Of course both are right. When business slows you have to prudently trim costs. And when business slows it's even more important to invest prudently to generate more interest.
The solution may finally be found in accurately measurable approaches to driving down the cost/lead and customer acquisition costs for middle market manufacturers.
And advances in that area may be coming at a particularly opportune time - because the best time to invest is when business remains solid, before a downturn hits.
And there may well be a downturn coming.
Economists successfully predicted 10 of the last 6 recessions
Forecasting is an imprecise discipline for sure. And it's easy to see ghosts behind every economic indicator tree if that's your inclination. But there are some fairly strong indicators that there's a dip ahead.
- statistically, it's been more than the six year (57 months) average post WWII duration between dips.
- global trade flows indicate substantial slowing
- Nils Smedegaard Andersen, CEO of A.P. Moeller-Maersk, the world's largest shipping line, recently offered alarming insights based on their predictive perspective
There's fairly compelling data that things are slowing rapidly, but of course there's no way to know for sure.
What industrial manufacturing companies can know for sure is that there will be another downturn, and that when it occurs, the combination of rapidly changing buyer behaviors and economic malaise will create a VERY challenging environment.
And the reality is that you don't manage your business based on abstract economic metrics. (Did you even realize that the most recent data for Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization will print tomorrow?)
You do manage on orders, profitability and cash flow, and you're certainly influenced by the pace of new projects and whether your pipeline is growing or shrinking.
So instead of reacting to changes in order flow, or adapting based on factors you can't directly control, how about proactively building an industrial sales lead generation engine? And that requires adapting to how buyers now buy, because as disquieting as the news and rumors may be when the economy actually shrinks a percent or two, that hardly means people are no longer buying.
Are they cautious? For sure. Are they a bit slower to make big decisions? Often. Are buyers even more eager to find ways to increase efficiency, drive down cost, find more profitable buyers themselves and improve their own business prospects as others languish? Of course.
Buyers lurk in the internet shadows
I was in a printing related business in 2001. In February of that year, literally within a span of about a month, the fairly consistent flow of telephone inquiries simply ceased.
We continued to hold our own, with energetic prospecting, but then with a bunch of money tied up in a McCormick Place trade show booth at PRINT '01 (6-13 Sept, 2001) you can imagine the challenges we faced.
Back then (seems odd to write that about something after Y2K) it was still up to sellers to find buyers. And buyers were in hibernation. Even in '08-09, while websites for industrial sales were more common, and some quite vibrant, the quality of search results was much lower - and therefore it was less widely relied upon for earlier stage research. (Sure, you could find XYZ brand part number 8910 - but you couldn't ask Google a "mirror mirror on the wall" question as you can now.)
And that's one of many things that have changed. Because the next slowdown will be the first one to occur since buyers really seized control of the education, research and procurement process with their new found information symmetry. (Want to learn more about how buying has changed? Check out this 10 minute narrated picture book.)
Start now - address the problems your ideal prospects will have when a slowdown hits
If you've got a typical industrial sales website with a few "about us", many "product" and a couple "industry" pages the next slowdown will be as ugly for you as the last - actually maybe uglier as your sales reps will have even less success with traditional prospecting approaches (as buyers and technology become better at dodging them.)
HOWEVER, if you anticipate the problems with which your prospects will be wrestling when the slow down hits them, you can start to build a library of those answers now which will deliver incredible dividends when they start searching for help. (Think of it like Wayne Gretzky, skating to where the puck will be.....)
But don't assume you know what those problems are, or even more critically how your prospect will view them. Revisit personas and begin to ask how a slowdown will impact their perspective, what problems will get their management attention, what solutions they'll consider and how they'll research options.
Then create content to address those - not gloom and doom crap that predicts catastrophe and paints your products/services as a panacea, but rather solid, substantive and insightful business advice which will provide value even today for businesses in evolving industries that may be experiencing slow downs within their verticals.
Then weave some of that content into your editorial calendar and begin to sow the seeds of vibrant success regardless of the background economic condition.
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