June 24, 2018

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Staying in the Game

If you are anything like me, you are probably wondering, "Is it the economy, is it me, is it my salespeople, or what?" You are also probably wondering when the heck this economy is going to turn around so that our industry can begin its upswing, right? Are you thinking like me? If youíre not, perhaps you are in the skinny part of the bell curve, where a few of our industry colleagues happen to be thriving in that "sweet spot."

While many of the economic indicators say we are headed in the right direction, the continuous threats of terrorism ominously and quietly keep our clients' guards up and spending down. What I'm finding is that we really need to stay focused, executing the good old-fashioned basics, to try to create and get more out of every opportunity.

As a business owner who at one time thought Iíd arrived, I have personally spent more of my time on sales calls. I find our clients need to see trusted faces, and feel comfortable the business is doing O.K. and will be around tomorrow, especially after the debacle with the "dot-gones," In a marketplace like this, clients do not want to, nor do they need to, see new or inexperienced faces. Unlike the most recent years when the demand for technical talent far outstripped the supply, and most of our sales were in the form of order taking, in this economy it takes seasoned sales professionals to stay alive.

At one time we could afford to have our clients assist in the training of new talent, but not anymore. Those who have the old-fashioned relationships will find it much easier to get and stay in front of clients. When you think about it, clients who used to make $10,000 decisions on the spot may take a week or two to think through the justification for spending the money. Because many of our services easily exceed $100,000, or customers are vacillating about this spend as if it were $5,000,000. This obviously slows down the selling process; therefore, closing skills, including properly handling objections, are more critical than ever. This may require owners and senior managers to get back into the game of selling.

It is not necessarily you, but many factors combined with a sign of the times, and yes, "this too shall pass." A recent poll by CIO magazine indicates that IT spending budgets are expected to grow by 7.3% over the next 12 months. Business is slowly coming back and clients are cautiously beginning to spend again, but supply is now on their side and competition is intense. Letís face it, it is definitely a buyerís market and will remain so for at least the next quarter. As diehard participants who plan to survive, come "hell or high water," itís our responsibility to stay focused and get creative in garnering the business that is out there. What I tell my sales team is "if there is a requirement out there, someone is going to get that business, so it might as well be us!" I also advise them not to make this downturn an excuse for not closing business. If we accept that, we may as well sit back and let our businesses go under. Rather than accept that fate, I personally choose to work harder.

One of the greatest things about what looks like a recession is that many buy into it, and only the strong survive. So, when it is over, there will be fewer of us going after the new volumes that will be created. Therefore, stay in the game. Create added value for your services. Give something away. Strongly emphasize superior customer and consultant relations. Work as hard as you worked when you initially started your business.

Spend time really getting to re-know your clients, and although they might not have money to spend right now, help them plan their short and long-range IT strategies. Keep up your client contacts. Stick with your clients; donít abandon then just because they donít currently have spending budgets. They will remember you when things turn around. And learn to like, or even love, your difficult clients who are spending. Keeping their business is a valuable asset, and strengthening your relationships with them and with all of your clients, should increase future business. Add value to your clients not only with the services you offer them, but also in their relationship with you.

-Dianne Ferguson
President, Business Control Systems, LP
A Dallas-based information technology staffing company.
Chairman, National Association of Computer Consultant Businesses