Contrarian view? Absolutely not. The best time to strike is while your competitors are off guard. While they gather in their conference rooms to complain about the economy, use this golden opportunity to reach out to your existing customers and find new prospects.

Far too many business owners absolutely take the wrong approach. They hunker down, cut marketing budgets and pull back.  The end result is “unattended customers” and less competition for you. Businesses that cut marketing budgets also demotivate their best salespeople, which start spending more time thinking about getting a new job than a new customer.

Economic downturns are an excellent time to strengthen your relationships with both your existing customers and your competitors’ customers. Odds are, they are not as busy. Are they more willing to spend a little more time with you? Definitely possible – use the time wisely:

  • Collect testimonials: Asking for a testimonial is a contact with your customer that’s not a sales call. Tell them you would like to promote the testimonial and link it to their website, which will promote them as well. Use the opportunity to show your customers you value their opinion, your business relationship, and their business (i.e., dynamic websites, blogs, Scribd, PR news, etc.);
  • Survey your customers: Create an opportunity to collect feedback and discuss services and/or products you offer that they may not be fully aware of or completely understand (i.e., email marketing, custom website landing pages, etc.);
  • Network: Introduce your customers to people in your network that they consider prospects and ask to meet their business colleagues and associates – an excellent source of referrals (i.e., LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook, etc.), and
  • Use your “consulting” skills: Help your customers and prospects save time and money by providing pertinent industry news and educational materials that will help them compete during these difficult times (i.e., email newsletters, white papers and custom publications all have high ROIs).

But don’t be fooled. There is also new competition for you – competition from new business start-ups and competitors that have invested in new technologies and lower-cost marketing tactics.

Hordes of new businesses are created during economic downturns. Layoffs create a lot of entrepreneurs that may soon be targeting your customers with fresh ideas, creative solutions and competitive rates. And, they are targeting your customers using high ROI marketing tactics such as online social networks, email marketing, industry newsletters, dynamic websites (blogs) and related marketing technologies. If you are not already taking advantage of these marketing tools, now is a good time to ask yourself, if not now, when?

Don’t forget, the marketing tools mentioned above are low-cost when compared to traditional marketing methods but there is a cost. And, implementation requires resources – consider the costs while developing your 2009 marketing budget. Next year will be a difficult time for many and many companies won’t survive. Yours will if you take advantage of the marketing tools available today.

Additional Info

We picked up the following info from a recent newsletter from the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce:

Market aggressively. While many customers are hunkering down, don’t make the mistake of doing it yourself. Because your competitors are lying low, use this as the right time to raise your visibility by being more assertive in your marketing.

When times get tough, most companies are far from ready to do battle. They have nowhere to turn because they failed at prospecting. Ask them if they stay in touch regularly with all their prospects and customers, and you’ll get a blank stare. Ask them if they actively help their customers reduce operating costs, and they don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. In other words, these salespeople and their companies are unprepared to meet the challenges of a difficult economy.

If you’re one of our clients, it is likely you already have a dynamic website that includes a blog. Now is a good time to plan. Consider how you can use it to your advantage the rest of this year and during 2009. Here’s another quote from the reference mentioned above:

This may be the perfect time to start a blog. People still buy during tough economic times. It’s just that every purchase or investment undergoes far more scrutiny. Fear of making the wrong decision is a primary motivator in purchase decisions. Thought leaders are perceived experts. Businesses want to hire experts. Experts get paid more, and they get recruited from further away. Why?

Because in going with an expert, the perceived risk is lower. One of the least costly ways to begin to establish thought leadership is through blogging. Done right, blogging can both greatly enhance your perceived expertise and increase your chances of being discovered on search engines.

There are many other reasons for using blog technology, which we frequently cover on this blog (subscribe if you haven’t already and you’ll receive the free marketing advice).

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