When Budgets Run Thin, Default Into Start-Up Mode To Grow Your Career

Businesses evolve. Sometimes they go through a rough patch and the angry CEO blatantly exposes the thorns and not the roses. “The industry is going through a difficult time and, as you can see, if this downward trend continues, we will be forced to make some hard decisions. Despite this we must sell and we must think different.” He comes short of paraphrasing the then livid President Moi when he said of a teachers’ strike, “Hakuna pesa! Hakuna pesa! Hakuna pesa! (We are cash strapped)

When faced with thin margins, instead of looking for the exit window salespeople and marketers must adapt in their approach to reaching out to customers. Insisting on, “budgets have been slashed and with them our impetus to thrive” is counter-productive. Defaulting into start-up mode of thinking is much more useful and sustainable.

A start-up advertises and prospects with no budgets. Equally, hitherto gravy train-driven sales teams, can discover their business acumen by taking on the challenge of “no budgets” as a way to add a feather to their self-esteem and CV cap; “turned around fledging sales 15% quarter on quarter, with marginal to nil budgets”, screams at any headhunter in a way that a plain, “turned around sales by 15% quarter on quarter” doesn’t. One of the ways of achieving this is through experiential marketing. If I sell tea for instance, and funerals and such other social events are show stoppers in my territory, being present at most functions, with my branded vehicle conspicuously parked for maximum visibility and I, offering tea to the multitude present will cost “David shillings” but will have “Goliath” returns in brand awareness. Far- fetched? No. Remember the MP from Western Kenya who offered a hearse for free to be availed at all funerals in his region? Or, the politician who gives away branded water tanks? Both sailed through their campaigns with greater and more sustainable impact, than the fleeting and unsustainable dishing out money (which requires fat budgets) ever would.

Another way is through experiential selling. In a past article I wrote about the new frankfurter maker at the supermarket who doesn’t just give away grilled pieces for tasting, but had gone ahead to grill, make and sell hot dogs to the hundreds of shoppers. Nowadays, supermarkets sell ready to eat food and some even have a “hang-out joint” to consume your ready made juice blended on site. Some genius must have realized that shopping is therapeutic to some and a family outing to many, especially on holidays. Either way, with this trend, and faced with thinning budgets, would you rather give away pieces for tasting (incurring further costs) or outright sell to a market already tuned into buy (and snack) mode?

Such start-up thinking should not be restricted only to trying financial times. No. Even when things are rosy, a brand may still struggle for relevance. A salesman for a multinational fast-moving-consumer-goods firm struggled to get his superior tea to move despite the heavy marketing campaign. And then he had a Eureka! moment. A significant portion of his target market was farmers and the next cattle dip session was that weekend. Early that chilly material morning, when the farmers arrived at the dip, they found him in a branded apron, ready to serve them boiling tea in branded cups from a sufuria perched on flaming firewood. The farmers could not have asked for a better welcome. And for the salesman he couldn’t have asked for a better result. His sales sky rocketed.

Defaulting into start-up mode when required to, is not something you do for the company but something you do for yourself. The company benefiting is a consequence. Your ability to adapt into start-up mode calls for getting your creative juices flowing. It grows you and your career in the way abandoning ship doesn’t; it also gives untold and deep meaning to what you do.

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