Recession Marketing

How we respond to a recession dictates our success (or failure) not only during, but more importantly after, the market downturn. Companies that can hold their ground through a downturn often become market leaders afterward.

In hard times businesses often look to eliminate expenses, but what about marketing expenses? If a marketing department is properly functioning there should be a direct correlation between our marketing budget and our accounts receivable. Based on this we would all agree that cutting the marketing budget would be a poor idea in a recession. What recessions often remind us, however, is that the expenses of many marketing departments do not have a direct correlation to our accounts receivable. Often marketing departments focus on producing glossy brochures and professional websites that do not necessarily function to support the bottom line.

Refining and Reshaping Marketing
This said, down turns in the economy are not the time to cut our marketing budgets; rather it is the time to refine and reshape our marketing expenditures to truly focus on bringing work in the door. This refining and reshaping should yield an increase in the return on our marketing investment dollars, increasing the correlation between those expenditures and our accounts receivable.  Here are some common changes that you can evaluate to achieve this goal:

  1. Increase your advertising dollars instead of giving your website a facelift.
  2. Incentivize your sales staff instead of getting more mugs with your logo on them.
  3. Cross-train a key person on your marketing staff to provide business development support instead of redesigning your company logo.
  4. Target some new relationships before RFPs and proposals come out instead of using the shotgun approach to pursue proposals (pursing RFPs and proposals that you have no business pursuing).

The Common Recession Mistake
Some functions/expenses of marketing can, and should, be put aside during a recession so that those funds can be spent on marketing functions that are more effective at bringing work in the door. A common mistake during a market downturn is to eliminate the ‘extra’ marketing expenses, but failing to redirect the money towards marketing that will enable you to compete in the highly competitive recession market.

What to do
A recession is the perfect time to sit down with the head of your marketing department to reshape your marketing approach.  Focusing on the marketing functions and expenses can help support your bottom line.

A Last Note
So, why are firms that market heavily during a recession positioned to succeed post-recession? Because people are our most valuable assets, and providing them a place of security during a recession ensures that your best employees will be around as the market picks up momentum. Also, a recession provides a great opportunity to hire the best and brightest from your competition if you are able to keep your bottom line intact. After the recession you then have a foundation for growth and the ability to become a market leader.

It’s Back to the BD Basics

itsbacktothebdbasicsRecessions have a tendency to remind us about business fundamentals. It is through the refinement of a recession that wasteful spending is eliminated and that we again focus on the core capabilities that make our companies successful. It is also recessions that remind us that marketing and business development are not the functions of just one or two departments. When company backlogs decrease we recapture the essence of our mutual corporate responsibility to bring new projects in the door. 

Focusing on existing clients and services
It is easy to want to expand into new markets during a recession. The problem is that during a recession work is much harder to come by, both in the markets you currently serve as well as in markets that you don’t serve. Expanding into a new market requires both time and money to enter the market – two things that are not readily available during a recession. As a result, a recession is not the time to expand into new markets, but rather it is the time to focus on your existing clients and services.

The goal during a recession is to focus on bringing work in the door immediately. Most marketers will tell you that the fastest, least expensive, and easiest way to bring in new work is to focus on your existing clientele. This includes people you have sold to previously and others in the industry that are familiar with your work. So what can you do? Here are several things that you can do during a recession that will position you to succeed: 

  1. Don’t Wait, step-up your current marketing: When faced with the possibility of a decline in your workload initiate action immediately. Often when the slowdown reaches your doorstep firms find themselves among a large group of competitors that are competing for work. The idea is to immediately step-up the everyday marketing efforts that you have found to be successful in an effort to build your backlog going into the recession. In our industry this usually includes follow-up on outstanding proposals, using qualifications to bolster the effectiveness of your fee proposals, and pre-marketing RFPs.
  2. Call your existing clients: Especially at service firms, the “last line of defense” when you are in need of work is to pick up the phone and call your best clients to ask for work. Firms often hesitate making these calls because they are afraid of what others will think. Simply put, get over it! Calling your existing clients and asking for work is the most effective way to get work in the door in a down market.
  3. Focus on being the best: Now is the time to set-aside change orders and additional work authorizations (within reason) and give all of your clients 1,000 reasons why they should never even consider another firm. Begin by asking yourself, “What can I do to help this person that is above and beyond what they hired me to do?” Remember that focusing on being the best isn’t something that just one person or a group of people can do, it is a company-wide focus that requires buy-in to be successful.
  4. Diversify within your current markets: Pursue relationships and work in market sectors in which you are currently working that are stable. Generally in a downturn these markets include the federal and healthcare markets. As discussed above, now is not the time to pursue new sectors, but it is a great time to place emphasis on some of your markets that will handle the downturn better. This does not mean that you should simply respond to more RFPs, rather initiate new relationships and build inroads that will position you to win.
  5. Be Patient: Markets change. Just when you think you will run out of work the markets will start moving again. Firms that survive this economic cycle will again experience an upswing as industry and opportunity prevail in the free market.

Building your Marketing Culture

In marketing and business, recessions provide us the opportunity to unite our companies for future growth. The proceeding actions are just a handful of things that can be done to empower everyone in your company to be a part of the sales process. In addition to these, think about how you can leverage today’s challenges to develop a culture that embraces marketing and business development. Firms that succeed in building this culture today will reap the rewards of growth in the future.


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It’s Back to the BD Basics by Tim Klabunde was published in the February 2009 edition of Marketer.

How to Market in a Recession

Focus on your existing clients and services. It is easy to want to expand into new markets during a recession. The problem is that during a recession work is much harder to come by, both in the markets you currently serve as well as in markets that you don’t serve. Expanding into a new market requires both time to enter the market and money: two things that are not readily available during a recession. As a result, a recession is not the time to expand into new markets, but rather it is the time to focus on your existing clients and services.

The goal during a recession is to focus on bringing work in the door immediately. Most marketers will tell you that the fastest, least expensive, and easiest way to bring in new work is to focus on your existing clientele (that is people you have already sold to previously, or others in the same industry that are familiar with your work).

So what can you do? Here are several things that you can do during a recession that will position you to succeed:

  1. Don’t Wait, set-up your current marketing: When faced with the possibility of a recession initiate action immediately. Often when the slowdown reaches your doorstep firms find themselves among a large group of competitors that are competing for work. The idea is to immediately step-up the everyday marketing efforts that you have found to be successful in your industry in an effort to build your backlog going into the recession.
  2. Call your existing clients: Especially at service firms, the “last line of defense” when you are in need of work is to pick up the phone and call your best clients to ask for work. Firms often hesitate making these calls because they are afraid what others will think. Simply put, get over it. I have found that calling your existing clients and asking for work is the most effective way to get work in the door in a down market.
  3. Focus on being the best: Now is the time to set-aside change orders and additional work authorizations (with-in reason) and give all of your clients 1,000 reasons why they should never even consider another firm. Ask my favorite question “What can I do to help this person” and add on the end “that is above and beyond what they hired me to do.”
  4. Diversify within your current markets: Pursue relationships and work in market sectors in which you are currently working that are stable. Generally in a downturn these markets include federal and higher education markets. As discussed above, now is not the time to pursue new sectors, but it is a great time to place emphasis on some of your markets that will handle the downturn better.
  5. Be Patient: Markets change. Just when you think you will run out of work the markets will start moving again. Firms that survive this economic cycle will again experience an upswing as industry and opportunity prevail in the free market.

For some foundational truths on your marketing budget in a market downturn, check out the article Marketing Engineering Services in a Market Downturn. Also, remember what Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today.”

Marketing in a Recession – Part 2

“Over two-thirds (72 per cent) of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are now expecting a recession. However, under one third (28 per cent) have rewritten or adapted their marketing plan to prepare for it, according to research from marketing company New Brand Vision.

Ben Harris, MD of New Brand Vision, says: ‘Many SMEs were not in business during the last recession and won’t anticipate how they could be affected. It’s worrying that, with so many firms expecting a downturn, so few are actually taking steps to plan for it.'”

 Growth Business

How is it that so many firms believe we are headed for (or are currently in) a recession, yet so few are willing to adapt their marketing plans to effectively manage their future?  The reality is that most firms choose to “hold on tight” through a recession rather than proactively adapt to the changing market.  In my last post on Marketing in a Recession we discussed the ways that a firm can refine and reshape their marketing program.  I received numerous e-mails and calls from many of you discussing how you have effectively refined and reshaped your business (or plan to now) to meet the changing market.  Based on these discussions I wanted to pass along some additional resources that I hope you will find helpful: 

Marketing in a Recession: Additional Resources

The Canadian Marketing Association has a great post entitled: Recession-Proof Your Business: Focus on Current Customers

Ivan Misner in his blog Networking Now has a must read post entitled I Refuse to Participate in a Recession.

I like Wendi McGowan‘s 5-steps in her post on Recession Proof Your Business

Mark Riffey has a post from this morning on his blog Business is Personal relating to developing a plan for your business

For those of you in the A/E/C industry, let me refer you to Construction Marketing Ideas where Mark Buckshon continues to post relevant posts everyday on marketing