As my fellow blogger astutely pointed out last week in what is by far the best rant he’s ever penned, supply and spend management companies are approaching the recession in one of two ways. The minority camp is taking the correct approach and aggressively ramping their marketing, human capital acquisition, and new product development efforts — seizing the unprecedented opportunity the recession provides to a company that can actually save its customers money and deliver rapid ROI. However, the majority camp is taking the exact-opposite dead-wrong approach and bunkering down until the downturn is over. They’re razing marketing to the ground, aggressively slashing headcount starting with the highest paid (and, often, the best performing) employees, and killing all new product development. As I explained in Part II why you’re not going to last if you’re hoarding cash, they’re digging their own graves.
When you cut marketing, you cut visibility. As a result, the pipeline starts to shrink and before you know it, your sales people are wasting 90% of their time doing cold-calls, desperately trying to find the smart minority who are salivating for the type of product you are offering. Even worse, by the time they’ve identified a customer, there’s a good chance the customer, anxious to see savings and ROI in this economy, has selected a competitor’s solution, because that was the only one they were aware of.
When you cut talent, you cut capability. In a technology-based offering, your biggest asset, and most valuable offering, is your people. Technology advances rapidly, and anything you build can usually be copied AND improved upon by a new start-up rather quickly. Customers look for providers who can help them. Customers look for providers who have done this before. Customers look for providers who understand where the market is going and who are actively working on solution enhancements that will meet their future needs. Those capabilities lie in your people, not your platform. Furthermore, when your competitors are shedding talent, this is the best opportunity to acquire talent, because it won’t cost you thousands of dollars in recruiter fees, signing bonuses, and raises to acquire them. Top performers want to perform. They want to work. All you have to do to attract them is to match their most recent salary and give them a challenge, and they’ll start tomorrow. (Alternatively, you can wait until the next upswing and then try to lure them from a competitor … but it will cost you a lot more to do so, even if you’re successful).
When you cut new product development, you give away your edge. Smart customers — precisely the customers who are buying in this market — know that it usually takes at least a year to bring a new kick-ass product to market, by the time you get through design, market need verification, initial development, alpha testing, tweaking, beta testing, and release. They know that any company not actively developing the next version or next solution now will not have what they need next year when the market moves forward. And smart competitors won’t want to be left behind. As a result, even a weaker competitor who is actively working on solution improvement will look much better to them than you. And you’ll lose more sales.
But if you’ve been paying attention, you know all this. And the reason you’re not spending is because, as my fellow blogger pointed out in his rant, and as I have come to understand, your venture capitalists have lumped you together with the rest of their underperforming portfolio because they don’t understand that downturns are precisely when sourcing and procurement firms shine. They see the rest of their Web 2.0 portfolio flailing (as it should, because, unlike B2B 3.0, Web 2.0 offers no value in the B2B maretplace) and therefore they assume that you will start flailing, too. They cannot differentiate value-add technology from valueless technology.
So, to help you convince your VCs otherwise, I’ve decided to offer three new services.
VC-ED Service #1: Why <Your Company Here> is The Future
Cost: $7,500 plus expenses
I’ll spend one day reviewing your product and solution offerings, one day on a marketplace competitive analysis, and one to two days putting together a customized 1-2 hour presentation explaining why your VC firms need to invest in you now, backed up with a full report on your uniqueness and market opportunity, and I’ll deliver the report in person at your (North American or Western European) Headquarters.
VC-ED Service #2: The Time for Procurement/Sourcing/Supply Management is Now
Cost: $500 plus expenses
I’ll join you in a one hour conference call as an independent market expert while you attempt to explain that your opportunity is now and that, if you miss it, you may not be around long enough to experience another. (And if you like, I’ll explain why I think anyone who doesn’t invest in the opportunity now is missing the boat. As you’ve probably figured out by now, I have no problem being passionate on this point.)
VC-ED Service #3: Pre-paid Corporate Obituaries
OK, so this is my little joke. Nevertheless, if marketing, consulting, and headcount has been slashed across the board, you probably don’t have $7,500 lying around for VCED Service #1 (really just a light-weight version of my Total Solution Assessment, as described in What Does the doctor Do … For You). There’s also a good chance that your board is not interested in hearing any viewpoints that contradict their own views, so while you might be able to raise the $500 for option 2, you probably won’t get any commitment of their time. Thus, I am offering a pre-paid corporate obituary, because there’s a good chance that the VC’s “cash saving initiative” won’t allow you to hold out long enough for revenue to start flowing again*. However, you deserve to be remembered in style — hence, my pre-paid corporate obituary service. I will do an in-depth post on SI (and archive it on the resource site) covering your solution offerings, their value, and why you will be sorely missed if your doors close forever. You are free to use this material when you try to fire-sale your company, and maybe, just maybe, there’ll be one last lifeline from a smart VC firm who’ll see the value you have to offer.
*It will be at least a year from the time the VCs allow cash to flow again before sales pipelines, new product development, and new hires get on track. Since the recession will last at least a year, if not two; since it will be six months after that before the ultra-conservatives in the VC firms let cash flow again; and since most VC-backed companies in this space don’t have much more than a year or two of cash in the bank, there’s a strong chance that many companies just won’t make it.