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Offensive or Defensive: Which Crisis Strategy Is Better for You?

Nacho De Marco
Nacho De Marco

Learn more about the best business strategies to follow in the post-pandemic world.

Months have passed since the COVID-19 swept us off our feet, interrupted our regular lives and derailed our business plans. Companies of all sizes have taken multiple steps to reorganize and alleviate the crisis. Unfortunately, the pandemic is still going on, and it’s still threatening businesses across the world, particularly small and medium-sized companies. It’s not surprising that many business owners are still trying to figure out the best path to follow in these uncertain times. 

Are you one of them? Have you tried some strategies but still feel unsure regarding the immediate future of your company? Then you need to stop for a moment and better analyze the current situation of your business to define one of the two best possible solutions you have at your disposal: an offensive strategy or a defensive one. If you fail to do so and keep doing things just to survive, your chances of making it through the crisis are slim.

Let’s review how you can make an initial assessment of your company and then explore offensive and defensive strategies to help you define which is the best approach for you. 

Taking the first step: Analyze your data

It’s hard to keep the head cool when your business is being threatened by the biggest crisis of the last few decades, but shooting in the dark isn't precisely a great strategy to deal with it. You have to make an effort to stay calm and assess where you are standing. If you've reached this point and are still open for business, then you are on the right track, but that doesn’t mean you can relax.

You have to keep planning your moves carefully, and there's no better way to do so than strategically planning everything from an informed position. How can you reach that position? By learning all you can about your client contracts, leads data, sales and providers. You should also take a look at technical information, such as your website traffic, engagement in social media, your conversion rates, and even your SEO reports. Naturally, check your financial status and pay special attention to your burn rate (the amount of money you might be losing on a specific period).

Being as thorough as possible when looking at your data is the only way you can better prepare what step comes next. If you have a data science algorithm in place, even better, your quest for insights will be far more efficient and manageable. But if you don’t have that, don’t worry, you can arrive at similar insights, provided that you are rigorous and detailed in your analysis. 

Armed with those insights, you can choose your path: an offensive or a defensive strategy.

Two approaches for two different scenarios

Depending on where you find your company after that initial step, you'll have to pick one of these strategies. It's not that you won't be able to pursue both of them (you can do that), but your current status will define which one is better suited for you. 

Thus, you might find that you don't need a defensive strategy because you have a firm footing in your industry that lets you go over to the offensive. Or you can also find that the offensive strategy you've been following these months isn’t paying off and the resulting holes need to be patched up with through a defensive strategy. 

It's impossible to know which one is better for you until you take that first step. Of course, before making that decision, you'll also have to understand what we mean when we talk about defensive or offensive strategies, so let's see what's that all about before giving you some recommendations on both of them. 

On the one hand, there's a defensive strategy that mainly focuses on holding ground and finding a foothold during a challenging situation. In other words, the defensive strategy contemplates all the actions you can take to keep your company from losing more money, maintaining the current client base, and providing a more stable context to make complex decisions without jeopardizing your business's future.

On the other hand, there's the offensive approach in which you are confident enough in your current position that you can go out to seize the opportunities brought by the crisis. It's not that you can ignore what's happening all around you (because of course, you can't) but it's more about moving forward to secure new businesses, make new sales, and capitalize on the convoluted market.

Naturally, there are situations where it'll be more abundantly clear which one is the best strategy. In other cases, you might feel that none of them fit perfectly what you're going through. In that case, you need to dig deeper in your analysis rather than experimenting or going with what your gut tells you. Also, don't play defensive by default, especially if you aren't sure. You might be missing out on some opportunities that could solidify your business for the coming months and beyond.

Playing defense

As we said above, using the defensive strategy is about securing what you already have to prevent more losses. The main objective here is to achieve a certain level of financial stability that allows you to keep your business open for as long as the crisis lasts. That means that you have to do several things, including the following below.

1. Check on on your existing clients, and boost your relationship with them.

Don't assume that they'll stick with you just because. It's important to know where they are standing, which hardships they are facing, how satisfied they are with your services, and how you can further help them. 

If you detect that they might be considering leaving you, take immediate action. You can develop a series of strategies to entice them to keep your relationship going, things like free consultations or bonifications. Don't overdo it, though; giving away too much might save you now but can compromise you in the future. 

2. Start cutting costs wherever possible.

The assessment you carry out at first will surely uncover many things that you're using that might not be essential. You need to be brutally honest with yourself here and label only the truly essential things within your companies as such. Then, you'll have to do away with anything that doesn't fall into that category. 

Be careful with the things you don't consider essential, though. You might feel like a subscription with a cloud-based CRM or your partnership with a software development company can not be categorized as must-haves at the moment, but the benefits you might be reaping from them could end up exceeding the savings. Cutting costs can be a delicate endeavor and can take some time, but it's one of the best ways to play defense in crisis times. 

3. Don't show desperation.

Most companies are being extra careful today with whatever they do, especially when it comes to the partners and services they want to keep. You want to make sure that you are among the ones who remain working with them, so playing strategically is key to achieving it. 

In other words, you should show your existing clients that you can still provide value to their operations and that you're up to the challenge. That means that you should run your defensive plays smartly and without sounding like you're chasing them and their money. Don't offer huge discounts or open up your services to free models, as those are signs that you're struggling to keep your business running. Using those techniques is fine, but use them in moderation. 

Moving to the offense

Perhaps you weren't much affected by the crisis, or you already went through a defensive strategy and can now go out to look for more businesses. If that's the case, then the offensive strategy is for you. In it, you'll be doing some of the following things.

1. Review your services and see what else you could be offering.

Crises always open up new opportunities, and, hopefully, you can leverage them. Sure, you'll maybe have to get creative for that to happen, but don't dismiss this path. Maybe you don't need to offer a new service but rather create a new scheme to promote the ones you already have.

Try to look for enticing offers that reduce the risk for your target audience, offer rewards for existing customers that bring new business, and introduce new plans for making payments. Also, create more instances where you can showcase your value to potential customers so they can better assess you in a risk-free environment (like trial periods or one-to-one demos).

2. Go after new clients.

Revisit your pre-pandemic leads and research how they're doing during the pandemic and how it has hit them. You may find that they are better than you expect and willing to go ahead with a partnership with you. Naturally, you should aim for stronger leads first, because they were close to sealing a deal with you, and things might not have changed that much during these months.

After that, you can go after the other leads in your pipeline, but you'll have to adjust your pitch. Rather than going in for a hard sell, you might ease you through the new value-driven services we discussed above, such as a consultation to help them during these times. Adapting your speech to crisis mode is crucial in these situations, as a lot of the companies you'll target might have been severely impacted by the pandemic and won't stand an aggressive stance.

3. Be extra careful with your marketing.

That bit about adapting your speech to crisis mode? Yeah, don't just do that for your sales pitches. Instead, apply that to all of your communications. Using an empathetic tone will fare way better with companies struggling with the effects of the pandemic.

In a marketing sense, that adaptation isn't just in the tone, though. It also means adapting your communication approach to the audiences that might be open for what you have to say and offer. In other words, the pandemic might have changed your target audience and even opened up a new audience altogether. You have to keep up and talk to them to take full advantage of the opportunities that may lay before you.

Spring into action

The crisis has undoubtedly pushed you to make some changes and forced you to make some difficult decisions. However, if you're still open for business, that means that your company is resilient enough to take the next step. That necessarily has to be you looking at your current situation and defining a plan for the short term that ensures that your survival wasn’t a coincidence but rather an informed approach.

Using the data you might have available can serve you as a foundation for making the best decision: either going with a defensive strategy or using an offensive stance to secure your company. To get the best results, you have to act now, so gather that information, assess it with honesty, and devise the best plan for your particular situation.

Image Credit: fizkes / Getty Images
Nacho De Marco
Nacho De Marco Member
I am the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at BairesDev. I am responsible for implementing and ensuring the successful management of the business and setting future strategies aimed at positioning my company as the #1 software company in the region. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Systems Engineering as well as a Master of Business Administration. I was born and raised in Argentina and I am an eager traveler who has visited over 50 countries. I speak 4 languages and I'm currently a resident of San Francisco, CA.