The Press, February 2013

If Sonny Bill Williams hadn’t been too busy recovering from boxing Francois Botha, and training with his latest rugby league team the Sydney Roosters, it would have been worthwhile for him to attend the launch of MYOB’s Business Monitor study last week.

A poll of 1000 small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in New Zealand, the Monitor had some fascinating insights into how to grow a business in the midst of recession. As a small enterprise in its own right, the ‘Sonny Bill show’ would have gained some useful tips.

MYOB is a company that provides accounting software for small businesses, and for the last three years they have been regularly surveying small businesses about various aspects of how they operate, and decided to hand this data to economists NZIER to crunch the numbers and find the patterns.

Conclusion number one? New Zealand is recovering from the worst recession since the 1920s. Downturns since World War Two have typically involved economic contractions of 2%, this one has been twice that bad.

Not only that, the current dip has lasted longer and “has been marked by a slow and grinding recovery” according to NZIER. No one in business would be surprised by these results.

More interesting was what firms that managed to actually grow during this nuclear winter of business activity were doing. NZIER identified that these businesses invested in what I would call telling, selling and gelling.

These “business builders” were 22% more likely to invest in ‘marketing online’. That is, they are using online channels like their website, online advertising e.g. Google Adwords or social media channels including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, to “tell” people about their business and what it offers.

These channels are cheaper, faster and more directed than traditional advertising mediums, making them particularity ideal in a recessionary environment where competition is fierce and pressure on prices intense.

The catch is that you still need to have some basics in place to be an effective “teller”. A clear message about the value you offer, and as specific an idea as possible of what market segment you are targeting is critical.

“Selling” was the second strength of the recession-defying SMEs, doing 28% more ‘customer acquisition’ than the average. That means turning the interest that their “telling” generates into new customers.

Effective selling is a discipline in its own right, requiring particular sets of skills, process and discipline. Great selling organisations don’t typically fit the stereotype of the pushy, silver tongued sales representative.

Rather they are very good at working out a customer’s problems and then explaining how their product or service meets that need. They back this up with a disciplined approach to taking prospective customers through a series of steps that lead to a sale, and tracking their progress along the way.

The last characteristic of the recession-busting SMEs in the MYOB study was investing 22% more than other companies in ‘customer retention’ i.e. gelling with those people who have already parted with cash for their product or service.

And this is where great brands and profitable companies are really built. You can be good at telling a market about your value, and have an efficient selling machine, but all that does is create expectation on the part of the customer.

It is in the delivery that great brands are created – either you exceed that expectation you have created and strengthen your reputation, or fall short of it and diminish it. The truly great companies are very good at creating expectations through telling and selling, and then even better at meeting and exceeding those with their customers.

Sadly, this is where SBW recently fell short in his ridiculous WBA bout against washed-up South African heavyweight Francois “the white buffalo” Botha.

The ‘telling’ and ‘selling’ of the fight was super effective, there would have hardly been a sports fan in the country not aware the match was on and anticipating a bout of Rumble in the Jungle (the famous Muhammad Ali – George Foreman fight in 1974) proportions.

Instead we got something closer to the Jungle Book cartoon, with an inexperienced boxer (albeit an incredible athlete) taking on a has-been whose professional career began the same year his opponent started school. And even worse the match was farcically called off after 10 rounds when almost everyone, apart from SBW’s camp and Botha’s manager seemed to think it was scheduled for 12.

SBW simply failed to gel, falling short of the expectations his team had created, in contrast to his rugby union stint where he fulfilled fan’s aspirations him. Like those successful small businesses that have triumphed in the face of recession, focussing as much on gelling as he does on telling and selling, will strengthen the SBW brand.

And avoid the fate of the likes of Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant, who last week were named in the Forbes Magazine 10 most disliked sports people in the USA.

 

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