In 2022, businesses and individuals saw climbing inflation eating away at profits and reducing cash reserves. Entering the summer of 2022, the S&P 500 dipped and by the end of 2022 we saw the biggest annual drop since the recession of 2008. The stock market continued to fall dramatically into -10% declines and business and individuals saw their investments reduced. Now leading investors like Michael Burry, Ray Dalio, Jamie Dimon, and the Federal Reserve have all predicted a recession starting by the end of 2023.
As a business owner, you are responsible for the livelihoods of your employees. Your company’s success impacts your community, your customers, your suppliers, and, of course, you and your family. What can you do in an atmosphere of doubt and adverse economic conditions? First and foremost, you should not ignore the predictions and the risk they pose if realized. Second, you and your team should take the time now to evaluate the risks, prepare a plan, and take steps to ensure the continuity of your company.
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Recession Risks: Losing Customers, Losing Margins, Losing Lending
The key risk for companies during a recession is cash flow and the origin of cash flow is your customers. Companies that lose too many customers and don’t have the cash reserves to sustain operations-as-usual might inadvertently impact the quality of their service or product to cut costs. If you’re reacting when the cash has stopped, you’re much more likely to create a downward spiral in customer retention than if you have a proactive plan to address the risks. Understanding your customer’s “Recession Risk Profile” will be key to creating a plan that you can start putting into place now.
If you have a CRM system and already track your customer profiles you will have a head start, but you don’t need to know every detail about your customer to evaluate their risk profile.
We’ve come up with a 5-step process to guide you through evaluating your customer risk and using it to help you build a worst-case scenario plan to ensure your recession proofing your business.
5 Step Process: Customer Risk Assessment
The 5 Step Process is designed to help B2B companies get a better understanding for how recession might impact their customers, evaluate the “worst-case-scenario” to their own business, and devise a plan that would reduce the overall risk to the business. It is recommended that the company’s customer-facing executives such as the Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Sales or Business Development Officer, and the Chief Financial Officer contribute to and lead this evaluation and planning process.
Step 1 | Take Stock: Where is your business coming from?
Most likely, you have multiple products or services that are purchased by a variety of customers. Customer segmentation is a technique used by marketers to better position the messaging but its also a very useful technique for understanding customer risks. First, you want to understand where your business is coming from by asking these questions:
How much of your business comes from each of your customers?
How much of your business is recurring vs new/ad-hoc?
How far into the future is each of your customers booked out now?
What is your current forecast on new orders from each existing customer?
Step 2 | Investigate: How a recession impacts your customers?
While none of us can predict the future, we can still ask questions that would give us a clue as to how stable our customer’s business is. For B2B companies, this can be done even if you haven’t tracked the information previously. You might need the input of your customer facing team, since they typically have the most recent touch-points with the customer’s team. Here’s some of the key questions you want to understand:
Your Customer’s Performance
Which industry/customer types does each of my customers serve? Is that an industry likely to shrink significantly during a recession?
How diversified is the overall business of my customer? Do they have only one product/service or many?
If any customers are public companies: how have they performed in the last 1-2 years? In the last quarter?
If possible, run a credit report, check payment-timeliness or interview your customer gently to find out how they’re doing.
Your Company’s Clout with the Customer
How much of their business of this type is done with your company?
How many different contacts/connection points do you have with that company and at what level? (E.g., are you just talking to the buyer? Are you talking to the owner?)
How replaceable is our service/product for this customer?
Step 3 | Evaluate: What are the Risk Profiles of your Customers?
Based on your gathered information, you can now assess the risk for each customer. You can do this at a gut-instinct level or analytically, but we always recommend having at least one additional executive such as a CFO or CMO to do an independent evaluation to compare notes.
Now you’re ready to see the results:
What is the percentage of your business is coming from customers that are at high risk in adverse economic conditions.
What is the greatest contributing cause of risk? (E.g., Lack of industry diversity? Not enough clout with the customer team? Over-reliance on a customer who is on a downward trend?)
Step 4 | Plan: What steps you can take now to reduce future impact?
Planning in times of uncertainty requires flexibility and creativity. Based on your evaluation of your company risk, you can now run a “worst-case-scenario”: what would happen if all your high-risk customers left in a short time frame? Most likely your business would not be able to operate as is and difficult decisions would need to be made. You might look at proactive solutions that:
Extend cash reserves (by tightening spend, shipping inventory now, or selling off unused assets)
Diversify your customer base (more industries, different size companies, more recurring revenue)
Focus on retention and deepening relationships with your existing customers.
Ensure you could serve remaining customers with a smaller operation (by cross training personnel, documenting or automating critical workflows)
Some of the plans will drive positive improvements regardless of the economic situation - these are your “no regret options” and should be implemented as fast as possible. Other plans might cause disruption and you will need to decide if these are a priority given the risks that you see. Some might remain on the table until you see a stronger signal that action is needed.
Step 5 | Monitor: Set a date to re-evaluate your recession risks and plan.
Keep yourself and your team accountable for enacting the changes needed for your business to continue thriving. Establish a date for reviewing progress against the plan to ensure the improvement projects are implemented. Overtime circumstances could change, including for the better, so it’s important to remember that you can re-adjust plans based on new information and the success of the original initiatives. We recommend that you set up a quarterly or, better yet, monthly cadence to review the economic outlook and your customer risks. You and your team will be able to keep an eye on the situation and act in time to protect and preserve your business even in the worst event.
Take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly, and try another. But by all means, try something.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt
Conclusions: crisis preparedness inspires action
In times of adversity and ambiguity, leaders can empower their teams to thrive and overcome challenges by modeling proactive planning and risk assessment. Certainly, the tightening of lending, continued supply-chain disruptions, as well as post-COVID lock-down disruptions have created a sense of doubt about the future amongst many businesses owners and entrepreneurs. As a business owner you might feel fatigued dealing with one crisis after another. Creating a practice of crisis-preparedness and proactively addressing risks will inspire confidence and action in your team.
Printable "5 Steps for Customer Risk Assessment" Info-graphic
Bryant, C. (n.d.). How to Determine The Creditworthiness of a Business Customer. https://blog.apruve.com/how-to-determine-the-creditworthiness-of-a-customer
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Parks, M. (2023, April 15). Federal Reserve forecasters warn of a possible recession later this year. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2023/04/15/1170246247/federal-reserve-forecasters-warn-of-a-possible-recession-later-this-year
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Wang, E. (2022, December 31). Wall Street ends 2022 with biggest annual drop since 2008. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/futures-slip-last-trading-day-torrid-year-2022-12-30/
StratCraft prepares innovative companies to grow rapidly by equipping their leadership team with the practical tools and the essential discipline for executing winning strategies. We are doers who jump in to do the most difficult projects within your strategic plan and deliver measurable results. We want your company to grow, be resilient in difficult times, and continue delivering value to customers and shareholders for many years to come.