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How to innovate your way out of this recession

February 23, 2009

In case you missed the news, it looks like 2009 might be a slightly challenging year for the economy.

It doesn't matter what industry you are in or how well you have prepared—we will all be affected by what has taken place in the financial markets over the past several months. Even if your business is thriving, the media will do all it can to convince you that every American will be living in a cave by the end of the year.

What does this mean for you as a leader? It all depends on how you approach the situation.

I am certain of one thing: You will need to change. It's unlikely that the effort you put forth and tactics you practiced in 2007 will generate the same results in 2009. You had better be prepared to work hard and try some new stuff. It's time to innovate.

Now, when I say innovate, I don't necessarily mean it's time to dump your current business model and put your inventory on eBay.

I am suggesting a different (and less drastic) form of innovation. If you want to thrive this year, it will be necessary to rethink your approach to the fundamentals within your business and encourage your team to do the same.

Let's start at the beginning—marketing or lead generation. Assuming it will be more difficult to generate a qualified lead in 2009, you will need to consider alternate (and less expensive) strategies for getting the phone to ring.

Before you do anything, I've got a suggestion—pick up the phone. By that I mean it's time for a significant increase in your prospecting activity. I've yet to see an effective (and affordable) strategy that resulted in a significant increase in sales that didn't involve a persistent salesperson engaging with a prospect.

Get your sales team in a room and right before they begin complaining about the economy, tell them you expect an increase in their sales activity and will be carefully measuring their results (visit www.Salesforce.com). Sometimes innovation can involve going back to the basics.

Now that your sales team is generating more qualified leads, you will need an improved practice for turning leads into customers. Your competitors will be cutting their prices, so you need to convince the marketplace that you are different.

First, analyze every step in your sales process. Is it consistent? Are you asking the right questions? Can it be streamlined or automated? Next, consider documenting your expertise with a regular blog or white paper that clearly demonstrates your unique ability to address your prospect's needs.

Once you have landed a new client, it's time to examine the delivery of your product or service and ask yourself, "Do we consistently exceed expectations?" If you're like most companies, you don't even know what your customers expect, much less whether you are exceeding those expectations.

Innovation in the delivery of your product/service begins by sitting down with your best customers, telling them you appreciate their business, and asking them how you can improve. Once you have these results, get your best people in a room and design a simple system for exceeding customer expectations with every engagement.

These suggestions are just a start. If you've been in a leadership position more than a couple of months, you have probably recognized that the most innovative ideas come from members of your team. You rely on them to see things you miss and to offer suggestions that improve sales and the bottom line.

As a result, it's critical that you foster an environment that encourages and rewards new ideas and risk taking. It's important that you shake things up on a regular basis, break routines and challenge your team to think creatively.

It's likely that 2009 will be a challenging year. The good news is you have a talented team of individuals who are capable of helping you innovate and build a more productive and profitable business. Take advantage of this opportunity and aggressively pursue improvement and innovation in the next year.
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McClanahan is a business coach and inspirational speaker with ReachMore Strategies. He can be reached at 576-8492 or cjm@goreachmore.com.

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