Coping With the “Choke” Factor


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You don’t need any reminder that these are bad times for many businesses. And predictions are that times will get worse, perhaps much worse, before they get better. According to economists, consumer spending drives the majority of our economy, including the B2B side. Unfortunately, many consumers are slamming their wallets shut because of the carnage in both stock markets and lending markets. You could say consumers are choking.

But that’s not the choke factor I’m writing about. I’m concerned here about how businesses choke in tough times and stop doing the things that have made them successful – such as reaching out to customers.

Picture a business as the human body, with customers sitting just out of reach. Until relatively recently, rather than step forward and reach out to customers, companies kept them at arm’s length, fearing that getting too involved with customers would interfere with the traditional “win-lose” business model where companies take as much as possible from customers while giving as little as possible. In effect, they wrap their arms around themselves for “protection” from customers. Like giving yourself a hug.

But times are changing. Customers are changing. And increasingly, today’s customers are declining to do business with sellers that won’t reach out and seek win-win relationships. Although companies aren’t exactly hugging customers (nor do customers necessarily want hugs), many organizations are now tentatively reaching out to touch.

Unfortunately, when economic times get tough, the majority of companies will instinctively retract their semi-extended arms and start hugging themselves for dear life. And that’s what I mean by “choking”–the involuntary reflex to circle the wagons to “protect” the company from external forces.

Successful companies, really successful companies, will find ways to resist this impulse to retract outstretched arms–they’ll reach out even more instead. There’s no success in business without customers. And companies grasping this concept and acting on it will find new opportunities, as the majority of companies won’t be able or willing to resist the impulse to pull inward.

In my experience, the line between companies reaching out to customers versus hugging themselves for protection will prove to be the dividing line between surviving the recession relatively intact versus stumbling through severely wounded–or even falling and not getting up.

Here’s one instance where protection is risky behavior.


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