Three Tips to Combat Stagnant Sales

Last Updated Jun 30, 2008 10:26 AM EDT

A rising tide floats all boats, but in today's economy companies face a falling tide and choppier waters.

Last week, for example, Ilva's UK operation went into administration, continuing the poor performance of furniture retailers (see also SCS and Land of Leather). Few companies are immune -- even Nike's shares fell after it reported flat sales growth in the US.

There are a few ways to succeed in today's tidal conditions:

  • Be the lowest-cost supplier of everyday essentials. Last week, for instance, it was reported that discount food retailers Lidl and Aldi are currently delivering double-digit growth.
  • Have a unique, distinctive and valuable customer proposition. Apple continues to deliver growth as a result of its stream of innovative and desirable products which are able to transcend normal economic realities.
  • Adapt to the new conditions quickly.
For most of us, the only real option is three -- we must find new ways to succeed. As Charles Darwin wrote, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."

Reducing cost is essential, but is unlikely to be sufficient. SCS, Ilva and Land of Leather all operated lean, low-cost business models, but this has not been enough when they reached the economic low tide.

You must also find new ways to grow. There are three mindsets that are critical to delivering growth in any conditions.

  1. Create success for your customers. It is often easier to grow by selling more to your best customers than by seeking out new customers. What new forms of value could you create and deliver that will benefit your best customers and strengthen the relationship between the two of you?
  2. Focus on action. Amazon.com has transcended the dotcom boom and bust cycles by continuously developing, testing and delivering new benefits for customers. It's what CEO Jeff Bezos called "the institutional YES!"
    "People say 'We're going to do this. We're going to figure out a way'," Bezos told Harvard Business Review.
  3. Accept risk. In many ways doing nothing is the highest risk option for many companies. In any case, as management writer Peter Drucker once wrote, "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."
What other strategies help your organization sail on through today's tricky tides?
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.