Just as some anglers forlornly cast their lines into fished-out waters, some companies and sales people continue to focus on markets where nobody is buying any more. Sales and profitability decline and business owners blame downgrades, corruption and labour issues, while their real problem is chasing non-existent sales.
Many sectors in the economy have declined, and suppliers to those sectors will face reduced sales and increased competition. The poultry, steel and mining industries have experienced sharp reductions and face serious challenges. The automotive and manufacturing sectors have experienced reduced volumes, cost cutting and retrenchments. If your primary target market is in any similar sector, and you continue to operate as if nothing has changed, you are taking very high risks.
In some instances, the decline of the target market stems from an event like the horrific massacre at Marikana and the changes that brought to the mining industry. Then you know you need to react, but most change is gradual, and some entrepreneurs may not notice, or shut their eyes to the bad news.
Others cling to the hope that this decline is temporary, and do nothing. We all love our comfort zones and find many excuses to stay there, and so we sink with the declining market.
Making the right change
Once you have appreciated the problems with your current markets, look for similar markets that are stable or growing. For example, if you sell mining supplies, the construction industry may offer good prospects. Be creative; think how you can use your expertise to supplement declining markets by entering more successful ones.
Focus on high growth business sectors. Perhaps health and fitness, education, green energy or IT services could provide opportunities. Where could you leverage your technology, source of supply and sales processes to enter growing markets?
Look for success stories, there are many, including those profiled in this publication. It is clearly preferable to sell to a company growing rapidly than to one clinging to the edge of the cliff by its fingernails. If you sell business to business, examine the state of your customer’s customer.
If your customer is operating in a declining market, you will follow them downhill unless you take action. Find ways to use your products and services to make them more competitive, to halt their slide and grow at the expense of their competitors.
This is a good time to look deeper into the real needs of your existing customers. While we are selling well, we assume that we are satisfying customer needs appropriately. Are we really doing that? Are there other products or services that would be valuable to our customers? Find out, and then provide solutions.
Get out of your comfort zone
It’s easy to say that you should move out of your comfort zone and switch your efforts to more lucrative sectors, but less easy to do. Institutional knowledge, systems, databases, credit records, sales processes and products are all geared to the once-successful industries.
Instead of throwing away all of this know-how, it makes sense to adapt the systems and information to new markets in a gradual transition. Start new initiatives by withdrawing resources from the old and using working processes and skills to open new markets.
You are likely to need a core of your operations for your existing markets and customers, but your focus should be on the new initiatives.
Your sales teams may need additional training to work in new areas. They must learn to understand the customers and their needs and adapt to their terminology and business practices.
Continual retention of sales people is a good idea even without change; it is highly desirable if you want to enter new markets successfully. Train all staff who will be a part of that drive, so your whole company becomes capable of delivering great products and even better service to new customers.
Successfully enter new markets
- Which sectors are similar to yours?
- How can your current solutions be repackaged for different uses?
- How can your solutions help customers to be more competitive?