Coming Out Stronger After an Economic Downturn: 4 Strategies that Work

Written by Terri Stephan
3X Founder & CEO | Board Director | Exit to Microsoft | Brand Strategist | Speaker | Optimizing Value of Complex Ecosystems | Multichannel Sales Strategies | M&A | Market Expansion | SaaS | DEI

I am a board director and repeat founder & CEO who has led multiple companies from ideation to acquisition – including by Microsoft. As a board member, I guide B2B and B2B2C technology companies through rapid scale and growth, partnership and ecosystem development, and towards exits. I most recently founded Ecuity Edge, a self-funded technology company with SaaS IP enabling B2B and B2B2C companies to add value across complex ecosystems with real-time insights, improved customer experiences and efficiency, elimination of silos, and reduced friction in multiple domains – including fintech, insurance, healthcare, manufacturing, and complex technology channel sales. Ecuity was acquired within 5 years of its founding by Microsoft. I previously developed multi-channel sales strategies to guide a family-owned company into the top 100 of the Inc. 500 for 2 consecutive years.

Across industries and products, one word unifies all of us as we think about the economy and what the next year might hold: uncertainty.

As someone who has launched a company from concept to eventually exiting to a Fortune 20 enterprise—I personally understand the vulnerability that companies are facing right now. My exit happened during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Making sure that reality came to be required laser focus, strategic planning, and a relentless push in the areas of innovation and channel-building.

While we are not sure what lies ahead for sure, startups and large companies alike are empowered to make strategic, proactive decisions that can create much more upside in their future. If they play their cards right, companies have the unique opportunity to create a well of potential, goodwill, and powerful business outcomes—but it starts with being strategic right now.

Here are four strategies that companies can put to work for them that can make a massive difference in their future, beyond this age of uncertainty.

Don’t touch your pricing.

You’re going to be tempted to change your pricing to reflect inflation and other changes that are hitting your bottom line. You will especially feel this when you are looking at lost sales, but do not touch it.  The way you manage your pricing is your first line of communication with your customers. It should tell your customers and partners that, “We are in this together. We are experiencing what you are experiencing, and we are right here with you in the trenches.” Stay the course and be willing to meet your customers where they are. They will appreciate you when you do.

They may press you for different payment terms, they may have to put contracts on the backburner. Throughout, your message to them is, “We understand, and we’ve got your back.” Your number one job during this time of uncertainty is protecting that relationship – and it starts with leaving your pricing alone.

Protect your relationships.

Related to pricing, but separate, is relationships. It’s not contracts, logos, or convenience that your partners and customers will lean on—it’s going to be relationships. In the best of times, your relationships will lead to deal expansion and referrals. In hard times, your relationships are going to be the rock your business can lean into during hard times, and the launch pad that will catapult enormous growth when the trajectory starts up.

As an expert in nurturing the channel, I know every company has a channel (even if they don’t see it or believe it). I urge you to discover those relationships, make the phone calls, and check in on them.

Note: This is not just your company, whether you own it or work for it, it’s your personal brand reputation that is at play here. Be aware: how are you showing up? How are you perceived? What is the value you are uniquely delivering that no one else can? Relationships are invaluable and will see you through challenging times.

Invest in R&D and product.

It pains me to see so many companies pull back on innovation and research and development in times of downturn or uncertainty. There is a new way to look at this: see this as a time to double-down on innovation and make a giant leap ahead!

When my previous company, Equity Edge, went through a downturn in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, I made a bet on us. I increased our spend on R&D, as I felt the urgency to transform how we delivered our product and looked to accelerate our time to market. I knew that, while my partners and customers were experiencing volatility, that eventually the market would come around – and when it did, I wanted to offer a full-suite software solution to address their pain points. While so many companies paused and put their products on hold – we soared ahead. Our time-to-market and fast production was a key success driver in sealing the deal on our acquisition.

Package your product thoughtfully.

Use this time of uncertainty to assess how you’re delivering on your promises and your products for your customers. In creating Equity Edge, I wanted companies to understand they had a powerful suite of software tools at their fingertips. They didn’t just get one tool—they got them all, and they could turn the components on and off as needed. It wasn’t just a solution for one area, it was a solution meant to address every aspect of channel relationships.

The way you package your product speaks to how much you understand your market and its needs. I wholeheartedly believe that our unique packaging and the way we branded the product as a whole solution changed the nature of our sales motions. Use uncertain times to reinforce your expertise and your brand in your product packaging.

The economy is cyclical – plan optimistically.

Above all else, as a leader, you need to know that this is a moment in time (months, a year, a downturn, whatever the moment might be for you, right now) and that it will pass. We’ve seen down economies before, and we’ve been through uncertainty before. The best you can do is plan for it, be proactive and strategic—and know that it will not last forever.

Rather than reacting in the moment, hold on tight to your vision and where you want to go. Then, focus on the forward-motion of making that vision a reality.