In tough economic times it’s tempting to lay low, cut costs and ‘hope for the best’.  Yet is cutting business development to meet short-term financial objectives at the risk of losing market share to your competitors worth the gamble?

If you need convincing, there have been numerous studies undertaken which all point to the same conclusion: Companies that maintain their business development during a downturn when their competitors are cutting back can actually improve their market share and return on investment at a lower cost than during good economic times.

So how can companies continue to grow revenue, cut costs and stave off competition – all the while keeping their clients happy?  It’s a big ask, but tough times call for many companies to think differently about their business development activities.

Here’s eight tips to get you thinking:

  1. Take advantage of less competition.  The benefit of business development in a downturn is less noise.  Reduced spending across the board usually means that the competitive marketplace has grown quieter, presenting you with a great opportunity to cut through the clutter to market your services to a captive audience.  Freshen up your marketing materials including your website.
  2. Think non-traditional. If your business development or marketing budget is reduced, don’t feel as though your role has become redundant. Sometimes industry professionals simply need to become both more creative and measurable with their campaigns. Consider making the shift from business to business selling to business to government selling (see 3).
  3. Respond to tenders. Securing public sector contracts through competitive tendering is a great way to recession-proof your business since many contracts run for a minimum of three years.  If you don’t think you are tender-ready, invest in a consultant who can audit and document your company’s processes, coach, train or mentor your staff in how to run the tender process, help you develop a bid content library and provide direction on how to best position your company and its solutions to win the tender.
  4. Top of mind awareness, bottom line results. This is the time to get your brand noticed to accelerate growth while your competitors go into hiding.  While you might have to pull back on some things, you can still stay visible by shifting your marketing spend – get out there to promote your thought leadership, employees’ achievements or corporate social responsibility. When firms can’t compete on service or products alone, often it’s the people and their knowledge, expertise or visionary leadership that can set them apart. People are hungry to learn, to innovate and be inspired by others in this climate.
  5. Don’t stagnate, innovate. When times are good we’re usually so busy ‘servicing’ that we have little time to pause and look at our own business model. Take the time to analyse your business development and account plans, strengthen internal processes and identify niche opportunities.
  6. Research your clients. Many companies never invest the time to review their value to clients and use this information to help grow their firm profitably for the future. Instead of cutting the market research budget, you need to know more than ever how clients are defining value and responding to the downturn. Do some analysis on why your clients use you over your competitors. Who are your most profitable clients? What type of work are you performing for them? What is the growth potential of your existing clients and how can you profile future potential profitable clients?  If you can’t answer these questions you won’t be able to adapt and respond to clients’ shifting priorities.
  7. Service is king. Even in hard times, not everyone shops on price alone. Be responsive and exceed your clients’ expectations. Service excellence strategies are important not only to outperform competitors, but to improve staff morale.  Start by asking staff for their input into how your company can improve client-facing service and communication. By engaging the workforce you will get better buy-in, ideas and ownership of the initiative. If yours is the company that is known for adding value rather than cutting back, your brand will be positioned to fly higher than ever when the economy picks up.
  8. Maintain relationships with loyal clients. When times are slow it’s time to rekindle strategic relationships.  Continue to network. Visit their offices. Take them to coffee.  Face to face time is invaluable to building rapport.  In tough times companies sometimes reduce their training budgets. Offer free training sessions that are relevant and timely to their needs – you’ll be surprised by what kind of goodwill and word of mouth marketing you can build by offering value added service.

Remember, if you view economic uncertainty as an opportunity to be creative and to transform or expand while competitors pull back, you can thrive, not just survive, in these turbulent times. The real mind shift is to look at your business development and marketing dollars as an investment, not an expense.