Updated: Aug 14, 2020
We all face uncertainty at some time in our lives, either as an organization or as an individual. I remember the times of the Asian financial crisis, when all the markets in Asia Pacific went southward. The situation was beyond our control: our business, our staff, and our customers were all under threat. Reflecting here on how we overcame that.
The first action point was to take charge - “control your own stress”. Stress has a negative health impact on yourself and also brings a feeling of negativity on people surrounding you. We accepted the situation as a “natural calamity” and avoided the blame-game approach. Instead we focused on things which were under our control.
The question: what is in our control?
Firstly, we have our own destiny in our control. The slowdown in the market meant that we had to prioritize our efforts in a more effective way. Every second counted. We looked inwards first. How do we make sure that we are still employable? And not lose our job and create stress for the family? The job market was down and so there was no point in searching for one. So then? We focused on upskilling ourselves. We encouraged all our employees to learn something new which would increase their skills. It was not a magic solution; it was a practical solution to use our spare time wisely.
Then we looked at our customers. We were in the B2B space, and our customers were also having idle time. We sat with them in unusual meetings, and brainstorming sessions. We brainstormed and used a white board to put up ideas on how our customers can increase sales and profits, either through new products, upgrading current products, and/or reducing their cost. We became a part of their team. We didn’t offer any price rebates, because it was not a sustainable strategy. We had a common goal – we wanted a win-win situation. Our customers got deeply engaged with us because now we brought value to them in terms of understanding their needs.
Very few companies were doing that, but what we did was create a strong partnership with our customers, who looked up to us, not as a “supplier” alone, but as a true partner who stood by them in thick and thin. Earlier, our sales team was interacting only with the customers’ purchase teams. Now, our sales team worked deeper with both our customers’ purchasing & sales teams. And we knew that when the next contract came up, we would be the natural choice, as all stakeholders in our customer-organization would support our bid. We built strong relationships for our future business growth.
Learning for us: make your customers more dependent on you than you are dependent on them. If you succeed in this, the issue of “switching supplier cost” will be so intangibly heavy, that your own company will be irreplaceable. This is what I call the “Mind of the Strategist” in a very simplistic take.