So, What Are You Waiting For?


Put your spin on '05 now--or someone else will


Here's hoping that 2005 has brought to you and yours untold joy and prosperity. It hasn't for everyone.

Katrina, Al Zarqawi and Scooter have muted the success many have enjoyed this year. On the tech front, so has phishing, which turned out worse than people expected. And a clean, clear Vista still seems far, far away.

Then there's Cybernet, a VARBusiness 500 company that imploded after its founder shot himself dead, while Amherst Computers, another longtime stalwart, crumbled under the weight of bad debt. Another, still, struggled amid accusations of overbilling on a contract with the Transportation Security Administration that involved linking federal employees at airports to the TSA's security centers. Unisys, the company in question, says it is working to resolve any issues, but, nonetheless, saw its stock plummet to a 52-week low last month.

If your company hasn't performed to your liking, now is the time to get out in front of your story before someone else--a competitor, a rival, a boss, etc.--does it for you. It could be important when lining up new customers, allies and financing for next year.

So here's a four-tip spin cheat sheet for those failing to keep up.

The Economy Is Growing

The U.S. economy grew at a 3.8 percent annual rate in the third quarter, according to the Commerce Department. That's what it was in 1996, and not too far below what it reached in the boom years of the late 1990s when Y2K spending reached record levels and dot-com investments amounted to mass hysteria.

The simple fact is that some companies are booming. Take Computer Network Services, which caters to SMB accounts in and around San Luis Obispo, Calif. It has no special sales team, no advertising budget to speak of and no strategic marketing vision. Sales? Up 80 percent over last year.

Further south in San Diego, venerable TIG, a 24-year-old company, is having a banner year selling basic hardware in addition to advanced services. This year, sales are up 20 percent and profits 40 percent. Then there's RM Technologies Group of Knoxville, Tenn. Sales there are up 100 percent in the past three years. Its secret: monthly lunch-and-learn seminars for customers (no one has ever thought of that before) and aggressive efforts to seed local media with technology stories (never a bad idea).

Sales Cycles Have Lengthened

It's true: VARs, IT consultants and solution providers are taking longer to close new business. In fact, our soon-to-be-released 2005 State of the Market data reveals that 42 percent of solution providers believe their sales cycles are getting longer.

But not everyone is falling behind. Merlin Technical Solutions, for example, just opened a professional services office in St. Louis to support its rapid, tremendous growth. And the Greenwood, Colo.-based company, which generated close to $90 million in sales last year, is moving to a larger office space in Virginia. The reason? Merlin's professional sales force is closing deals left and right. One in five people at the company works in sales. And each of them has an average of 10 years' worth of experience. Merlin has both inside and outside salespeople, and works closely with vendors to develop telemarketing campaigns to target prospects.

There's Nothing New To Sell

VARs gripe that there has been little in the way of innovation to show customers. "It's all iPods and consumer gadgets," I hear. Ridiculous. Next month, we will publish our annual VARBusiness Technology Innovators special edition. In it, we will showcase products that are worth getting behind (for a quick glimpse, turn to page 22). Add to that a raft of hot-selling security technologies, VoIP infrastructure and open-source applications, and you have one of the best-selling environments in years. And it will only get better as Vista comes into view in the second half of '06.

Things Would Be Better If It Weren't For All the Bad Elsewhere

Nope, you cannot go there. Screw-ups elsewhere aren't having an industrywide effect. Even some that have endured some setbacks are responding rather remarkably. Unisys, for one, has managed some positive spin. In late October, just when things seemed their bleakest, the company's prospects inspired both UBS and Morgan Stanley to lift their ratings on the company's stock.

Now, if Unisys can do it, so can you.

T.C. Doyle is senior executive editor at VARBusiness. You can reach him at tcdoyle@cmp.com.