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By John R. Graham

Just when we think we've grasped what's happening in business, something changes to disrupt the precarious balance. It may occur in the economy, an industry, a region, a particular market or technology that alters even the most flexible business plan.

Establishing a strategy, then staying with it, was possible for most businesses until the last decade. Planning a year or more in advance was relatively easy. Ups and downs would occur but with a high degree of predictability. Hitting sales and revenue targets was almost taken for granted.

Now, dramatic changes in technology, international conditions and distribution channels are constantly upsetting the balance. Banks are looking more like insurance agencies and insurance agencies are quickly taking on the characteristics of banks. Wal-Mart had long avoided selling name-brand fashions--until the nation's department store companies were reconfigured and downsized. Suddenly, Wal-Mart saw an opportunity to move brand-name clothing lines.

How can a business cope with a marketplace where erratic conditions are--and will be--the norm? What is required is a strategy that takes constant change into account. Even with notable disruption, it is possible to attract new customers, keep present ones and increase sales.

Here are 24 practical, useful, put-them-to-work-now ideas for building business in unpredictable business conditions.

1. Surprise the prospects. Run-of-the-mill is out; getting attention is in. But it isn't easy, particularly amid all the clutter and competition for attention. It's time to be innovative and dramatic. One insurance agency, for example, offered to buy small contractors "the biggest steak dinner in town" if it couldn't save them money on their business insurance. This challenge was enough to make the telephone ring.

2. Target the right person. The big job in marketing and sales is getting to the right people inside a company. Addressing mail to "Facilities Manager" or printing a "routing slip" on the outside of the envelope is ineffective. Hitting the target is the challenge. Scoring a bull's eye means making contact with the right individuals and is the only way to make the sale. Taking time to be highly targeted in business communication is essential.


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