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Watching the Economy by Clint Burdett CMC® FIMC

July 2010

Finding Growth Opportunities -
Questions to Ask Your Employees

By Clint Burdett CMC

Great business leaders find a balance for competing priorities; they focus then motivate. Finding opportunities in the Great Recession has been a challenge with opposing priorities of cost containment and of revenue growth. In hundreds of my discussions with successful business leaders, it is clear that when we emerge from the Great Recession, the best opportunity for revenue growth will be from your current customers. Leading your company out of the Great Recession will require shifting the focus away from cost containment to growth opportunities.

The time and energy spent understanding your customers' needs always lead to new products or services. The first step is to have your customers talk about their business economics, where they are their business cycle and what do they need to do to grow. Often these conversations between your employees and your customers are hidden from senior management. The day to day interactions, observations, and "sharing the pain" chatter pass unnoticed.

Let us assume that since 2009 your business has done well cutting costs and negotiating price with your suppliers to improve your margins. This pressure has reduced net demand as you protected your core business. Current financial reporting suggests that the recovery from the recession will be slow and choppy. Consumer demand will ebb and flow but not predictably like the tide. Be confident that there will be a recovery, just when.

Ask your employees these questions about their everyday conversations with your customers:

  • How have our customers' businesses been changed by the recession? Have they moved back the core and if so what are their growth opportunities now? What intimate details of their pain came up?
  • Can we deliver our products in lots more in line with their cash flow?
  • Can we reduce their cost, improve their efficiency or make their customers more loyal.
  • Can we surge when they need us to surge?
  • Often key employees have left and with them their knowledge of the market, so can we as a team share market information?

These five approaches- what changed, how can we help, can we make our customers businesses better, can we deliver when it's time to deliver, what information can we share - are outward focused. When the business cycle picks up and demand grows, being viewed as a partner as opposed to a low cost provider will create business.

Over the next 12 months business leaders must shift their focus from defending core to creating demand. It will be a hard to loosen a cost-cutting mindset but unless you do, the business community as a whole will drive down demand and the business cycle recovery will be slow and choppy.

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