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Avoid learning the wrong lessons from a harsh 2001

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A collective sigh of relief could be heard on Dec. 31, 2001. "Well, thank heaven that’s behind us," many people said or felt. Of course, New Year’s is often that way—a moment to look ahead, not back. Tradition tells us to welcome the baby new year, with all its possibilities and promise, with open arms. We don’t sit down with the old, tired past year and go over the accounting statements.

Nevertheless, it would be an enormous mistake to sweep 2001 under the rug, especially the dot-com boom and bust. Some executives now find it easy to dismiss the extravagant promises of the dot-coms. "Those start-ups worried us at first," they say, "but they’re in Chapter 11 now."

Don’t be complacent. Study those bold, brash innovations of your dot-com competitors, including the ones now in bankruptcy court. What did they get right about e-mail for customer acquisition and customer retention? How was their CRM strategy better than yours? Did their e-commerce site look better or offer customers more functionality than yours? Did they explore emerging technologies, such as multimedia e-mail, mobile devices or Web tools, to make their own and their customers’ operations better and faster?

At a minimum, your company’s playbook will be improved by this exercise; at a maximum, you’ll be prepared when another, better-funded competitor arrives to make those innovative ideas work. As a tech-savvy friend of mine put it: "The next Net revolution will go even farther and deeper, and for those comfortable souls who thought they could relax, look out. The best of breed are licking their wounds, surviving and getting ready for even bigger conquests."

The smartest companies will make two resolutions this year. First, they will spend on projects with definitive, expected results, building ROI measurement mechanisms from the start, not as an afterthought. Second, they will continue to fund technologies and marketing initiatives that promise a desirable ROI.

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