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Three steps while waiting for the economic recovery

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Wasn’t the economy supposed to begin its rebound once the uncertainty around the U.S mission in Iraq ended? That doesn’t seem to be happening.

While some of our troops are already headed home, the economy that will greet them remains sluggish. Thankfully, consumer confidence, which has buoyed the economy ever since the 2001 recession, has remained remarkably strong—showing a surge in April that was the largest monthly increase since March 1991. But this has to be balanced against rising layoffs, as Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan reminded the House Financial Services Committee last week.

A bigger worry is that three dramatic events—the dot-com blowout, the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the corporate scandals of recent years—have rattled our national psyche in pervasive and lasting ways.

This skittishness is demonstrated most obviously by the absence of bold marketing initiatives. You have to look hard to find campaigns that push the envelope. Undeniably, the dot-com era’s "excessive exuberance," to borrow Mr. Greenspan’s phrase, was unjustified. But equally unjustified is a risk-averse business mindset that reduces every decision to an ROI spreadsheet. Great American businesses and brands cannot be built this way.

What’s a business leader to do? Based on numerous conversations, articles, reports and BtoB’s own coverage, I offer these three steps.

Step 1: Find out what your organization sees as its mission. If employee perceptions or organizational structures are out of sync with the mission, you’ll never accomplish the next step.

Step 2: Find out who your current customers are and what they want. Check our Special Report on database segmentation (Page 28) in this issue for some excellent ideas on how to start addressing one piece of this puzzle. Do you know your highest-value customers and best prospects? Unless you segment your data, you’ll never know the answer.

Indeed, spending on infrastructure—people and systems—is often critical to accomplish this step. "Back to basics" is not synonymous with "guess we don’t need CRM integration or a modern Web site." Companies that shrink from these investments—particularly in the areas of customer-facing and customer analytic technologies—simply will not be competitive in the long run.

Step 3: Make steps 1 and 2 part of your corporate culture. Too many businesses feel these jobs are one-time exercises (or expenses) and do not view them, properly, as an iterative process.

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