Staying nimble when business changes

By Patricia Egen • January 7th, 2013

Back in 2009 I wrote a blog article about staying nimble in a bleak economy.  It is sad to note that we are still in that environment.  That made me think it was time to revisit this post and see what had changed.  Interestingly, not much.  I’ve added a few new items, but here is my take on what we are doing to stay ahead of the grim business reaper. Staying in business is important to my staff and I and we are celebrating our 15th year anniversary in 2013 and I want to make it to 20.

Our first requirement to become more nimble was after 9/11. Most of our business was focused around Corporate America. Well, they shut their doors on spending and we ended up looking for business elsewhere quickly. I had spent 9 months managing a team rolling out ACT while still employed in Corporate America. I swore I’d never touch it again. Well, one of my favorite expressions is “never say never.” I took a chance, spent quite a bit of money and went and got certified in ACT. Part of the process of becoming certified meant I was put on their partner website. A client called exactly one month after we were put on the list and that turned into a contract that paid for the certification process three times over. Ok. Good idea. Successful conclusion.

In fact, we haven’t looked back since. ACT has become an integral part of our business. So much so that it has caused my other favorite expression (or better said – Alarm) to go off – “never put all your eggs in one basket.”

We do a lot of things besides ACT but since we train, customize, resell, and develop ACT Add-ons for the product, it has become our cash cow. Now, though, people are watching their dollars. People are spending but much more reluctantly. This has sent me once again into nimble mode to see what we can do to keep the coffers full.

Move forward to 2013.  Here is what is on our agenda for this coming year.  I took a look at which industries were still calling and looking for ACT. I decided those groups would become the focus of a couple of marketing campaigns. I took some time to research what were the buzzwords and issues for those groups and made sure our campaigns addressed those issues.

As for my ACT clients, I figured they too were all in the same boat as we were. They were doing whatever they could to keep money rolling into their businesses. One thing in their favor was they all had ACT. ACT is sitting there with “gold in them thar hills” – meaning data saying who hadn’t been contacted, who wanted certain products, who preferred what, etc. It was time for my clients to drill down into their ACT data and mine the gold. That became the next focus of our group. We started looking for ways to make it easier to see the data.  We are using Excel to pull data into Pivot tables so we can drill down into the data.  Are there trends with industries? Are certain products selling more than others? Are there open areas of opportunity by state or county or zip code.  There are so many different avenues to go down to look at business opportunities.  The secret lies in the data.

Over the last two years, we have been working with dashboards and leveraging the visual impact of seeing data in charts. We send out emails showing people how the dashboards look and how easy it makes it to spot problem areas or potential goldmines. I have fallen in love with the dashboards because it is immediately apparent that a picture is worth a thousand words.

Case in point. I was at a client site doing ACT training. The group in the audience was less than receptive to the idea of needing to input data. They figured management would never look at it, so why bother. Well, then I showed them a dashboard. This particular dashboard showed activities. One person had been doing a super job of keeping their activities in ACT. Their bar line was 4 times larger than everyone else. Did I mention this group was very competitive. That chart was exactly what was needed to motivate that crew. And it made it clear to me that text is fine, but graphs are powerful. Oh, and management liked viewing them as well. Hm, there went that idea that management wouldn’t be looking at the data.

Which leads me to the next thing we’ve been doing to keep money flowing into the business. Again, I started looking at what people can do to get a better idea of what is going on with their business. Most everyone has Excel in house. Not everyone, though, is well versed in Pivot Tables and charts. I had two customers call for Excel training and that is what we focused on. While showing clients Excel tables, they then realize other data from their internal systems that could be pulled into Excel to show comparisons.  For example, imagine comparing visits to doctors for referrals compared against actual appointments with therapists – a perfect example of showing where marketing visits generated revenue.

We just did an Excel project for another client and in the process talked about Windows 8 which was new in their environment.  They loved the work on Excel so much they asked if we could help them better understand Windows 8.  Another discussion then went on about a project sheet to keep track of the status and I mentioned my favorite collaboration tool – Google Drive – and they asked for training on that.  One small project generated two other leads.  It becomes a question of “how high” when a client asks you to jump through hoops.

That’s where being nimble comes into play. When the economy changes or events arise that drive business away from your door, you need to be nimble enough to change directions or tactics. You need to be aware of what is going on with your customers so you can point them towards things that will help not only them but you as well. It’s not quite the same as “you want me to jump how high.” It’s more of a “well, it was purple last week, it’s green this week.” I guess it’s like being a chameleon. You have to be able to change your colors when necessary. The trick is knowing which color and how fast.

We’re still working on our own color changes. When the phone is not ringing, we are using the time to work on the new processes, ideas or campaigns. Use the time to put in place new tools or products to sell. Yes, it’s scary when there is less money coming in but you have to do it. Every time I freak out about the number of calls that day I go back and look at what I was able to accomplish because, indeed, the phones weren’t ringing as bad. Hm. Ok. And we are now starting to see the results. The phones are starting to ring again – in answer to those emails I sent out. Yep, I struck a nerve. People are looking for ways to mine their data. Cool. Guess I better get back to doing just that. Being nimble and working on a new idea.

Have a great 2013.  Go be nimble.

 

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