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If your business isn't booming right now, don't blame the economy.
There's plenty of opportunity out there, say solution providers that are thriving in today's business climate. In fact, some VARs say a sagging economic climate can actually spur IT sales, especially if you can prove a quick return on investment or increase operational efficiencies for customers.
The IT industry is relatively sheltered from larger economic troubles because technology can still help businesses operate more efficiently and drive their value proposition out to the marketplace, said Greg Paetow, director of Mid-Atlantic business development at Melillo Consulting Inc., Somerset, N.J.
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1. Offer free assessments and other road-mapping tools to your customers. You'll ensure a quicker sales cycle when they're ready to buy.
2. Introduce new technologies often. Your customers should always know what's out there in the market and that you can get it to them as soon as they need it.
3. Keep relationships strong by conducting regular Webinars on the solutions you offer.
4. Show customers that productivity gains from solutions such as virtualization can offset the costs of implementing the technology.
5. Focus on recession-proof technologies such as security and storage, where customers' needs tend to grow regardless of the economy.
6. If you haven't already, think about developing a managed services practice. A small investment on your part can help your customers plan for the future.
7. Develop case studies to show customers your solutions and successes, and what you can do for them.
8. Expand your customer base. Serving more vertical markets means less cyclical exposure to any one customer segment's spending patterns.
9. Get the timing right. New technology adoption, compliance issues and policy changes can open the door to new opportunities.
10. Go Green. Help customers save money and look smart doing it by implementing solutions that reduce their data center footprint and power consumption costs.
Added Paetow, if your customers aren't buying now, it's up to you to show them how IT can help them be more productive, more efficient and ahead of their competition.
Several Melillo Consulting clients are now in "a holding pattern," said Paetow, yet he said he is still working with them regularly to build the relationship. "It is still very important to at least stay in front of customers in these tough times," he said.
Melillo Consulting offers assessments and other road-mapping tools to get customers to think of the big picture, Melillo said. To help in the new and emerging technology educational process, Melillo Consulting does 40-minute Webinars for customers or invites them into its New Jersey data center to test-drive the latest products.
The live demos have proven "very beneficial" in drumming up new business, Paetow said, and the close rate on the Webinars is about 70 percent.
That kind of proactive approach for Melillo Consulting, and other other solution providers, is the difference between surviving and thriving when a down economy hits customers hard.
SERVICES, NOT PRODUCTS
Solution providers have long heard the mantra, "Don't sell products, sell solutions." That probably rings more true now, when the economy is slumping, than at any other time. Customers aren't going to buy new technology for its own sake. They simply can't afford to. It's up to VARs to package products with the appropriate services to make customers feel that they're getting a good bang for their buck.
Simply put, a services focus is more recession-proof than a products-based model, said Ken Lamneck, president of the Americas at Tech Data, the Clearwater, Fla.-based distributor.
"Once you get that services entanglement, you become a little more in control of the spend and you can really show the customers the true value of technology," he said.
The more focus on productivity gains that offset costs, the more likely that customer is not going to delay IT spending, Lamneck added. Technologies such as virtualization and VoIP are ripe for that conversation, he said.
"In tough economies, end-user customers are focused on return on investment. If you can show a tangible decrease in their SG&A costs because of this implementation, those [solutions] have a much greater likelihood of going to the front of the priority list," he said.
Every end user has some applications that are so mission-critical that their implementation simply cannot be put off, Lamneck said. Smart solution providers focus on those technologies, especially security and storage.
"You've got to look at product segments that are difficult to delay. The more you can focus on those areas that are difficult for customers to put on the back burner, the better off you're going to be," Lamneck said.