Cuyahoga Falls, OH — November 13, 2008 — Warren Buffett once observed this about economic downturns: "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." Well, the water's receding and unless your company is at the absolute top of its industry, you're probably more than a little worried about your level of "exposure." Do you have what it takes to survive in these troubled times? It's a scary question. But Dan Adams says you can't afford to spend too much time wallowing in anxiety and (to torture an analogy) scanning the shore for the nearest towel to cover your inadequacies.
"If you play your cards right, you can reduce your pain during this downturn and come out stronger," says Adams, the author of New Product Blueprinting: The Handbook for B2B Organic Growth (AIM Press, 2008). "People still need products — not just any products but the right products — and someone needs to provide them. No reason it can't be you. But you need to get started making changes right away."
Adams says there are three steps you can take that will dramatically increase your chances of surviving — and even thriving — in our dismal economy:
Survival Strategy #1: Cut the waste.
Adams says it's time to reinvent the one function in your company that is more wasteful than any other. It's your new product development, where the average company squanders over half its research and development (R&D) resources on new product belly-flops. Can you think of any other function — production, accounting, HR — where this level of waste is tolerated?
"Most companies don't have enough R&D people to drive existing projects at a rapid pace," says Adams. "How would you like to 'hire' dozens or hundreds more people who already know your company's culture, customers, and technology...and can start work tomorrow? Don't you think that would save your company? Well, you can do that: Just kill the dumb projects that are destined to be duds — really kill them, don't just wound them — and set these people free to actually do some good for your company."
That sounds great, you may be thinking, but I don't know which projects will be duds. Precisely. You don't know; but your customers do. Instead of huddling with your colleagues around a conference room table to decide what your project portfolio should look like, let's get a little crazy. Let's ask customers what they want you to work on. Adams describes how to do this in his book and Web site, newproductblueprinting.com , but here's the essence: First ask customers what outcomes they want (which is much different from showing them your potential solutions). Then have them rate the importance and current satisfaction levels for each outcome. Do this with several customers in a market and you get the Market Satisfaction Gap for each outcome. A high Gap means customers are dissatisfied with an important outcome...and are eager for you to fix this.
Adams notes, "Our clients have created Market Satisfaction Gaps in hundreds of markets, and they are usually surprised to learn what customers really want," notes Adams. "But better to be surprised before development work begins than after the product is launched."
Survival Strategy #2: Harvest the "best practices" of other companies.
It's easier than you think. Simply by learning what works for other organizations, you can immediately increase your effectiveness in key customer-facing activities, such as pricing, sales management and marketing communications. Have you ever left a company to work for another and discovered the new outfit had some pockets of mediocrity? Your new hires may be having the same experience. Instead of waiting for new employees to randomly cross-pollinate your organization with improved practices, you need to be much more proactive. You need to find, adapt and drive these best practices into your business fast.