I had coffee with the president of a local business this week. A friend from church recommended he buy me a cup of coffee and chat. I seem to be meeting with a number of business leaders and owners these days that are struggling. Their businesses are in different industries yet they have common problems;
“My business is down, struggling, this economy is killing us. I have our team doing what we did in 93’, but this time it just isn’t working…”
As a leader in your business your entire team is watching you,looking to your leadership.What is new today is your team’s level of fear. Their 401k’s are down. They have many friends and others in their network now unemployed. Your team deals directly with your customers, and they hear their concerns about the economy. They feel the decrease in activity staging orders on the shipping dock. They prepare the financial statements for your leadership team meetings. They are trying to get extended terms from vendors. They are receiving the calls from vendors with past due balances. They are tracking your team’s key indicators more closely than ever before and they are wondering…
Will I lose my job?
Should I wait for the shoe to drop, or should I find something else? Should I work on my “plan B”? “Plan C”?
Do our leaders know what they are doing? Will their leadership take us out of this storm?
The good news is your team desperately wants to be led. They want to follow a leader who will quiet those inner fears. They want and need a leader to step up and set a course that pulls the company and them out of the current poor performance.
The common problem, regardless of industry that I hear is a lack of current market information to make good decisions. Media Post just released an article by David Koretz titled Cheating Your Way To The Bottom and he discussed how leaders must use facts to make good decisions .Leaders describe how they used to lead sales “back when they ran the North West region…” I am sure the strategies and supporting tactics they described worked back then,….but here’s the common problem:
The market and your buyers have changed. They have changed how they buy and how they shop for solutions to their problems. Yet the plan you are managing with corresponding activities is based on the buyer needs of the past.
Below is a summary of my recent meeting over coffee. By no means am I poking fun at this struggling leader nor minimizing the troubles he and his company are having. When I decided to start blogging as I stated in my about page it is my desire to discuss real issues.
So I started our meeting by asking;
“When you ran the North West region and realized so much growth, how did you come up with such good ideas?”
“Well I just knew what to do…it was easy, my customers told me what we needed to do and I went back to corporate and fought for them.”
And now you are corporate?
Yes,… I guess I am, hadn’t thought of it that way
Is anyone fighting for their customers right now and you are shutting them down?
What are they asking for?
You know sales guys…our prices are too high, our quality sucks, and if we would only change the product by adding one more feature….
When was the last time you were in the market, “belly to belly” so to speak with a customer? A user of what you sell?
It’s been a while, but I get weekly reports, and I talk to my sales guys, I feel I am up to date with what’s going on.
Really? What are they telling you about your customers and the problems they are experiencing?
The usual; business is down, no money to invest in their business, just trying to keep their heads above water…you know
Anything new they are struggling with they did not struggle with last year?
Not really, just that business is bad, and they want a lower price and extended terms, I think we have a pretty good handle on what’s going on
When you ran the North West, did you think your boss knew the market and your customers as you?
Well…no (he became noticeably uncomfortable)
I asked a more questions and we agreed he did not have current nor first hand data to answer my questions. Given the importance of turning this business around, we agreed we needed market data.
These conversations seem to have the same next steps…”get out from behind your desk and get into your market and understand it today. After two weeks of meeting with customers and users you will know what to do in today’s environment. You will have first hand, timely market data, and you will be able to make strategic, market driven decisions and provide the leadership your team desires.”
We agreed to meet again when he returns.
What happened next I did not expect, he smiled and said; “you know this would be fun, I have not been having much fun lately.”
How about you?
Are you leading a team?
When was the last time you were “belly to belly “with a customer? A user?
You have the ability to lead your team out of this current economic condition and emerge as a market leader once you have good market data.
(Have you ordered you plane tickets yet?)