I get it.  I’ve managed P & Ls, and I understand the options.  Sometimes the best you can do during a business downturn is play to survive.  This article is a reminder that what you dobefore hard times hitcan dictate your choices during.

The Cost of Cost-cutting

Make no mistake:  times sometimes get hard.  For example, if you sold capital equipment into the oil & gas industry during the oil price slide of 2016-2017, you know that there is sometimes no alternative but to “right-size” in response to an uncontrollable market dynamic. Companies need to step up the spending discipline during down cycles.

Cost control is good corporate practice, but it has limits.  Cost control, what one of my first bosses called “frugaling” takes energy and management focus.  Cost-cutting your way to profitability is one of the hardest ways to increase net income. Combining cost-control and growth is even harder:

You can’t shrink your way to growth.

When you start cost-cutting, it’s difficult to maintain customer service and responsiveness levels.  Your people find it harder to be that helpful cheerful voice for your customers.  It’s harder to invest in innovation.  It’s harder to get face-to-face with customers. You are at significant risk of trading customer satisfaction for cost improvement.

As you struggle though needing to “frugal”, don’t mistake right-sizing for a growth plan.

More importantly, don’t mistake a cost-cutting project for a guiding business principle.  It’s a tactical coping mechanism, not a strategy, or a path to long-term success.

Let’s Start With What You Shouldn’t Do

Don’t get taken by surprise.  That company who sells into oil & gas should know that an oil price dip is coming.  One of those is always coming.  Always. Leaders in that industry have absolutely no right to be surprised by the fact that oil prices fluctuate.  It’s just a question of when.  If you aren’t preparing your company for it, you don’t deserve to lead a company.

Don’t start feeling superior to some specific industry, people.  A recession is always coming, too.  Always. Go back and read the paragraph above as if it’s directed at you and your industry, because it is.

You Can Prepare the Hard Way…

Some preparations are really difficult.

  • For instance, you could try to manage your fixed costs down.
  • You could reorganize your financing, trading debt for equity…preferably, patient money. At a minimum, it might be worth it to ask your impatient money to be less impatient.
  • Perhaps you can aggressively build cash during good times. Perhaps you should step up your expense control now, so that it doesn’t become need to become dysfunctional later.

These preparations can keep your frugaling from being the kind that damages your company’s long-term health. Keen awareness of customer value (awareness I help clients develop and sharpen) can guide you through prudent cost-cutting.

…Or You Can Prepare a Simpler Way.

Some preparations are more doable (perhaps still challenging, depending on your culture and leadership) but set you up for success – during and after challenging times. I can help with these, by the way.

  • Radically rethink who “sells”. Expand the mission of every customer-facing role in your company. Go beyond current “customer experience” (CX) theory.  Where CX trains your people to “delight”, go further: every person trained in value discovery.  I teach three simple questions and a mind-set shift that turn every person into an extension of your sales discovery process.
  • Radically rethink who buys.Typically, one silo at your customer holds budget, but many silos benefit. Get to all of the silos who benefit, and help them realize maximum value from your product or service.
  • Radically re-shape your most important customer relationships. There are specific strategic planning systems that shift key account management from “what all can we sell to this customer”, to “how can we add even more to our customer’s business?”
  • Radically reshape your customer’s perception of the value you deliver. Your customers don’t buy your products or services, they buy business and personal outcomesWhat they are willing to pay for those outcomes can increase if you help them perceive outcomes’ value more clearly.  While you might be able to add new products/services in the medium to long term, your sales people can add to the value of your existing offerings right now. It just takes the right kind of conversational skills and a little additional business acumen.

Start now.  If the economy tightens, your customers will be distracted, and these will get harder. Also, your competitors will be struggling to take your customers – some will try to buy your customer’s business away from you.

Of Course, You Could Just Not Prepare at All..

You could wing it when the time comes, right?


Contact me if you would like to discuss what you could do in your business. If you know somebody who might benefit from this article, please share.

To your success!

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