7 Ways To Tackle Tough Business Challenges

At COMDEXvirtual, Dan DiSano, president and CEO of New York-based Axispoint, and Bob Venero, president and CEO of Future Tech, Holbrook, N.Y., took some time to offer tips on surviving a tough economic climate from the solution provider's-eye view. Here are their tips for success.

Providing and marketing your value as an IT solution provider is the basis for goal-based selling. "We sell technology to accomplish something within our customers' organizations," said Venero. "From toner cartridges, to building data centers, we can understand what they want to accomplish, and why. We can go into our 'bag of tricks' to help them achieve those goals. That's a different conversation we're having, and we're having it in different places."

What does the customer want to accomplish? Understanding those business goals helps solution providers properly tailor their offerings. Venero advised that when working with Fortune 1000 clients in particular, it's crucial to take into account how long their sales cycles are and the cost of sales. "As the economic climate changes, their goals change and we adjust ... Cost, cash and capital are key to a lot of organizations. They are aiming for efficiencies, cost reductions, and becoming more nimble, more profitable."

The goals of the CIO, CFO and CEO may be different within an organization, and solution providers need to understand where each of these execs are coming from, and where they want to lead the organization. "Figure out which solution will work or what combination thereof," said Venero. "Technology can help them accomplish what they want to do, from a Unix transition to a migration from large system to a smaller one. All those decisions are cost-driven." So solution providers must be able to give straight answers about the expected return on investment of any solution, as well as the value it will add.

Historically, IT solution providers have been linked to their customers' IT departments through the CEO. That is changing.

"IT is reporting more to the CFO rather than CEO. That's a major change," said Venero. Additionally, other business units are becoming more involved in IT projects. In fact, chief marketing officers (CMOs) are increasingly initiating IT projects. "That's happened numerous times to us," said Axispoint's DiSano. "The CMO is charged with external branding, and internal and external communication. You need a corporate intranet and portal, and an extranet to work with vendors. You need the right telecom equipment to communicate with employees and vendors and customers. [CMOs aren't] just marketing a brand, there is communication function it has taken on. CIOs and CMOs are working more closely together."

Axispoint's approach has become "more sniper and less shotgun," DiSano said. Internal planning within their own organizations is paramount, the solution providers said. The key is to get all of the senior management team on the same page and driving the organization toward the same goals. All of the ranks need to understand where their own business is headed, and then they can turn toward focusing on the customer's business.

By knowing to whom in the organization to pitch a solution, and by understanding the company's goals, IT solution providers are positioning themselves as partners who can provide solutions to real problems. "If you can't show return on investment, the solution is not meaningful to the CIO," DiSano said. "If you can solve the most complex issues you become sticky and you'll be [with that customer] for the long term. Be consultative rather than transactional. If you are really solving problems, you need to understand their needs and what they are trying to achieve."

Venero concurred: "In the Fortune 1000 space, before we go from solution offering to sale, we must show ROI, usually of within 24 months or better, or the project won't get off the ground. "

CTOs and CIOs are traditionally focused on efficiency gains and on automation. DiSano has noted a change during the past year, however. "We've seen a significant pickup where CIOs and CEOs are looking at IT for revenue. [Solution providers] are expected to come up with solutions that help companies drive revenue from a tech perspective."