I’ve Been Through 6 Recessions. Here’s Everything I’ve Learned About Adapting.

“Never allow a good crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do the things you once thought were impossible.”

So said Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago, congressman and White House chief of staff. Emanuel certainly handled his share of crises—but nothing quite like the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of complexity and scale.

And yet his words still hold true.

No one will come out of this experience unscathed, but some will come out of it stronger than they went in and better positioned to thrive in the market that emerges from the current situation.

Related: These Cost-Reduction Strategies Aren’t Easy, But They Could Save Your Business

The “good” news is that while we haven’t been through this exact crisis before—a worldwide health crisis combined with a massive economic downturn—we have been through similar times.

My 41 years in the software industry include six different recession crises. There are lessons we’ve learned that we can apply to what’s happening today—and perhaps the most important one is to be adaptable.

Tighten your focus

Look at this as an opportunity to rethink where you’re at as a company and how you might use this time to strengthen your position and come out ahead in the long run.

So, step one: Tighten your focus. Going into a crisis, companies are often running a lot of optional initiatives for experimentation’s sake or another reason. There’s nothing wrong with these activities during the usual course of business, but a crisis demands that we take a bare-bones approach.

Related: Now’s the Time to Revisit Your Pricing

Take a good, hard look at everything you’re doing and bring your focus to bear exclusively in areas where you know you can be most successful right now and after the storm passes.

Realign your priorities

Look at where you have the most viable opportunities in this moment and beyond. Is there an opportunity for you to:

  • Gain market share
  • Take market positioning away from your competitors
  • Change the market dialog in your market segment to differentiate yourself
  • Demonstrate definitively that you are not just “a” competitor, but the top competitor
  • Provide valuable guidance to others—customers, partners—in this time of uncertainty

All of these things help to shift and sharpen how you are perceived in the market, which will ultimately help position you to great advantage as we emerge from this time.

Get ahead of the competition

Want to outmaneuver the competition during a crisis? In general, you need to adapt by using creative campaigns and guerrilla marketing techniques. You’re in survival mode. You need to think fast and consider unconventional strategies where appropriate.

Specific opportunities might include:

A competitor who is low on capital

If your competitor is low on capital and you aren’t, that might give you a chance to run some campaigns to drive higher market presence that helps generate awareness, interest and leads.

A market segment that’s worried

If your market segment appears to have concerns about the competition’s ability to maintain service, consider developing offers around simple replacement plans. This might include things like introductory offers, free service for a specific period of time, fast-and-easy transitions, and so forth.

When I was at Oracle, our Informix replacement campaign gave us the chance to put a great marketing message out there, drove the competition crazy, and gave our internal team something to rally around.

Talent who is ready for a change

When there’s uncertainty in the marketplace, people tend to start looking at options. If you’re in a stronger position than your competition, there’s no reason why you can’t recruit some of their top talent and upgrade your own team while weakening theirs at the same time.

Keep your customers happy

Your existing customers will keep you alive as a company and ensure your success during times of crisis. Keeping them happy is your number-one priority.

Everything else—from refocusing to realigning to outsmarting the competition—comes second.

We’re all being pushed to our limits by this pandemic, but those of us who are able to discern and take advantage of the opportunities it offers will stand a better chance on the other side.

Listen to OpenView’s George Roberts on the new Building to Last podcast

We just launched Building to Last, a new podcast for CEOs. Listen here.

Venture Partner

George Roberts is a Venture Partner at OpenView. He enjoys partnering with companies and helping them achieve their goals through strategy, focus and operational execution. From 1990 to 2003, George spent 13 years at Oracle Corporation, most recently having served as Executive Vice President of North American Sales. While at Oracle, George was responsible for over $1 billion in revenue and more than 2,000 employees, reporting directly to the company’s CEO and Chairman, Larry Ellison.
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