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With the New Year just beginning, it’s time to take stock of where you are. Without question, 2016 was rocky for some businesses yet profitable for others. Although the economic outlook appears to be stable, according to a recent CBIA/Farmington Bank survey, many businesses still feel cautiously optimistic.

It is a time for reflection on the successes and challenges of the previous year and time to set new goals and find new opportunities for the coming year.

Regardless of how your company fared, the question is the same: What are you going to do in 2017?

Will you thrive...or merely survive?

While the state of the economy will have some influence on the answer to that question, your attitude and actions will have the greatest impact. What it all boils down to is this: you can sit around and wait for things to get better…or you can take action and make things better. If you choose the latter option, here are five things you can do to bolster your success:

1. THINK BIG

No one knows how quickly or to what degree the economy will recover. But, one thing is known - there are still opportunities to do business. There are still people who need what you (and your competitors) have to sell. The only question is, "Who is going to get to them first?" Will it be you...or your competitor?

Don't limit your thinking - and your planning - to what you believe the market can support. Instead, develop BIG goals and a big plan. The "pie" may be smaller than it was a few years ago, but the only one who can stop your from getting a bigger piece of it (at your competitor's expense) is YOU. Even if you aim high and miss the mark (pardon the multiple metaphors), you're still better off than if you aim low and hit it.

2. PLAN YOUR ATTACK

Whom will you pursue? What are the characteristics of your ideal prospects? Do they look like your existing clients? Or, do changing market conditions and demands or new market expansion initiatives require you to paint a new picture?

And, what about your existing clients? Will it be business as usual? Or, will you have to make adjustments to the products and services you provide or the manner in which you provide them, in order to address new challenges and goals...and keep those clients happy?

Anticipate changing needs and "test the waters" with your clients now. It's better to be a little early than to be too late.

3. DEVELOP A COMPELLING MESSAGE

When you implement your big plan, you'll be interacting with people who may not be familiar with your company. To get their attention, stimulate their interest, and avoid falling prey to the "just send me some information" trap, you'll need a compelling "marketing" message that will quickly convey the relevance of your product or service. The message should focus on the challenges the prospects are likely facing - challenges for which your product or service provides a solution, and around which you can craft a 30-second commercial. A process engineer, for example, might highlight his firm's ability to "quickly identify and rectify manufacturing bottlenecks that decrease production line output and diminish profits."

4. INCREASE YOUR VISIBILITY

Prospects can't do business with you if they don't know who you are or where to find you. You need to "get in front of them" - in person or via telephone - and then follow up on a regular basis with mail or e-mail. They may not need your product or service right now, but when they do, it's the "top-of-mind awareness" you create that will increase the likelihood that the order goes to you rather than one of your competitors who just happened to show up on their doorstep for the first time the previous day.

The same strategy holds true for existing customers as well. Keep in touch on a regular basis - not to solicit an order, but to offer assistance or advice...or just to say "Hello." Being available for your customers when business is thriving is expected. Being available when business isn't thriving (theirs or yours) is the mark of a professional.

5. REFINE YOUR SKILLS

Getting a bigger piece of the pie requires that you identify, qualify, and develop opportunities in the shortest time possible. Chasing prospects in an attempt to get them to make - and then keep - commitments, handling their stalls and objections, and continuing to "follow up" with them is not only wasted time but a surefire strategy for giving your competitors the upper hand.

Be more discerning about the people with whom you invest your time. Use specific criteria to judge the value of an opportunity, and only invest your time and energy in high-value prospects. For instance, investing time with a prospect who has expressed an "interest" in your service should be considered a lower priority than investing time with a prospect who has acknowledged a challenge for which you can provide a solution.

Formalize your selling approach into a step-by-step process that becomes more selective as you progress through the steps. The objective is to weed out, as soon as possible, those opportunities you can't "take to the bank" in a reasonable period of time. Putting together a detailed proposal, for instance, for someone who doesn't have a budget in place to make the purchase may be an intellectually stimulating exercise, but it won't help you achieve your big goal.

You don't know what the business landscape will look like in 2017. And while you can't control it, you can control the manner by which you navigate it. Use the above five recommendations to chart a successful course.

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