As the CMO of a professional services firm, I and my firm faced many challenges during the "Great Recession of 2009." My firm, Mercer Capital, which provides business valuation and investment banking services, was not immune to the economic realities of the year. As I was debriefing the year, I tried to identify some lessons learned.
So, here a few of the lessons I learned from the year that was 2009:
- I am not as smart as I thought I was nor as dumb as I feared. When times are good, it's easy to believe you, or your staff, created the momentum that you are riding. When times are not so good and that momentum is gone and you're still doing the things you've always done, you realize that you're not as smart as you thought. If you have the good sense to realize that the macro-environment has changed and you adjust, you're not as dumb as you feared. That's what happened to me and our marketing/development efforts in too many ways to detail in this post. A little humility and a lot of hard work are required in good times or bad.
- The brand matters except when it doesn't. For those of you unfamiliar with the business valuation profession, Mercer Capital is one of the most respected firms in that space. The brand mattered throughout 2009 and continues to matter. What it doesn't do is seal the sale. In 2009, every engagement was harder to sell because of a myriad of reasons: the client didn't want to spend the money, the client didn't have the money to spend, prospects were delaying buying decisions, competitors' pricing didn't make sense, etc. If you believe your brand is bullet-proof, think again. You've got to prove everyday that your brand has value and do the hard work to nurture the a prospective engagement to a close.
- Don't lose your head while those around you are losing theirs. In 2009, we saw some pricing decisions from competitors that were astounding in their lack of foresight and/or possibly desperation. There were times when, it seemed to us, that people were giving away their services. While these firms made have had strategic (or cash flow) reasons for these pricing decisions, they confused the market. We, like many other firms, responded and continue to respond to pricing pressures but didn't lose our heads because we knew that 2010 was coming, and then 2011, and so on. We took the long view in order to be here to provide the same quality and superior service that we are known for.
- Relationships are key but hard times touch everyone. When the client who loves you and your work doesn't have the money, he doesn't have the money. When the referral source who has worked with you for years and believes you the best choice for a number of reasons has a client who is only interested in price and the market is full of extremely low-price competitors, the relationship with that referral source won't bring the sale. I venture to say that every professional felt the squeeze in 2009. That doesn't diminish the importance or power of relationships. They need to be continually nurtured through good times and bad.
- It's better to be the tortoise than the hare. Mercer Capital has been around for 26 years and plans to be around for 26 more. We weighed every seemingly short-term decision against the longer-term consequences. I learned that perseverance and a daily focus on the finish line wins the day.
Mercer Capital ended the year profitably. We had no lay offs. In fact, we hired during the year. The year turned out remarkably well given the economic turmoil. In addition, 2009 was a pivotal year strategically. Through hard work, strategic decisions, and a bit of luck, we enter 2010 on a strong footing - hopefully remembering the lessons of 2009.
I am interested in your comments. What did you learn from 2009?
Photo credit: Kenny Weng www.moodaholic.com