Learning Curve

Looking at a fever chart of the NASDAQ over the last 24 months is like seeing a roller coaster zoom through the night. As we adjust to adjustments in the tech stock market, we have a chance to profit by both hindsight and opportunity. Think about what we've learned on this wild ride in the past two years. It breaks down, simply, into four things:

1. Business is built on relationships and a solid business model.

2. Your greatest asset is your human capital.

3. The Internet provides two indispensable tools--speed and connectivity--and creates multiple opportunities.

4. Money can't buy happiness (at least not for long--ask any failed-dot-com CEO), but it can buy competitive advantage when invested wisely.

Successful business managers will now lead their companies by practicing good business sense as they develop new opportunities, build stronger teams and apply new Internet solutions. This means spending money carefully and strategizing to maintain a healthy cash flow.

We were reminded in the past year or so that businesses need to have something to sell--a product or service, or better, both--and someone to sell to. Likewise, you must constantly be innovative, and plan to invest resources in research and development to offer products and services that will find a demand. Now, more than ever, you need to understand your customers', channel partners' and suppliers' needs.

•Be proactive and anticipate your customers' needs--cross-sell, up-sell and offer targeted services.

•Be prepared to enable your channel partners' loyalty to your products and services.

•Help your supply chain plan ahead. CRM, PRM and SCM solutions are key to maintaining lucrative relationships.

Your company is nothing without the knowledge and talent of your human capital. You need to be constantly nurturing your people, giving them goals, training, opportunities and rewards. If you don't, they will leave you, taking relationships, domain experience and a vital knowledge base with them. Strong companies are always looking for and supporting talent. When the economy was fat, many companies allowed unproductive units, departments, managers and employees to feed at the trough, hoping to grow them into viable assets. But if they weren't productive in the best of times, how will they improve now? Lopping off deadwood will also improve moral among your best producers, if the process is handled judiciously and does not have the random, fire-sale feel of the massive corporate downsizing that occurred in the 1980s.

The Internet, as a network, can create multiple opportunities for expanding prospects and streamlining costs. You must be prepared to deal with the large influx of opportunities the Internet offers. If you aren't ready, your competitors will leave you far behind and your customers will simply leave you. "Agility" was a buzzword last year and it describes the ability to respond quickly to new information. The Internet has spawned technologies that provide the means to be agile with fast communication and analysis networks. Last year this was a competitive edge: This year it is a survival tool. You need to get your business information quickly and you need to act on it even faster. All that information that you gather should be immediately examined and applied to tactical decisions that are embedded in your business strategy. Take advantage of closed-loop solutions such as campaign management, site analysis, real-time adjustable dispatching, demand forecasting and product lifecycle management.

As the economy slows, managers need to do what all good managers always do: plan, innovate, evaluate--over and over. Your business strategies should aim for growth by being innovative, funding productivity and streamlining costs. Your strategies should include Web-based technologies that allow tactical adjustments as supply and demand wax and wane; as customer, partner and supplier needs change; and as product and service models are launched and transition. You should invest in talented people, recruiting them and training them, evaluating and rewarding them. Nurture and protect your cash flow--investing where you can expect ROI, saving and taking cash where you can. Impress your investors with your company's strong business model and solid value--you won't get far with a high burn rate. Move forward wisely and commit your company to dependable, long-term growth. And, most importantly, don't forget what you know and keep learning.

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