The Market Dilemma II: Vendors Provide the Vision

As I said in Part I, the way out of this prolonged recession is business-as-usual. For technology solution providers, that means the following:

  • Continued New Product Development
  • Continued Spending on Marketing and Thought Leadership
  • Continued Workforce Development
  • Continued Process Improvement

Continued New Product Development

This is vitally important for a number of reasons. It demonstrates:

  • you’re a well-run company and a little market hiccup isn’t going to hold you back,
  • you realize that new competitors are entering the market every day with innovations of their own and that the only true way to provide lasting value is to continue to improve your solutions,
  • you know that the only way to make things better is to keep trying, and that
  • you take a level-headed approach to business with a plan to be around for the long haul.

Continued Spending on Marketing and Thought Leadership

This is just as important as New Product Development because, and I know this from experience, having the best product in the world is a moot point if no one knows it exists! This doesn’t mean you go crazy and spend twice as much as you spent on marketing during a peak business year, just that you take the percentage of your budget you’d normally spend on marketing above and beyond head-count, like 5%, and spend it on marketing. So, if forecast projections over the long term (to average out unsustainable demand increases in bull years) state that, with a slow-and-steady growth curve, you’d do 10M, you still spend that 500K on marketing.

Marketing lets your potential customers know that you’re here for the long haul and still developing solutions that will help them lower costs, increase productivity, and get out of this mess quicker. It’s also the only way to establish you as a thought leader (provided you take part of that budget to support, and market, thought leadership), which is key to not only being remembered when a customer gets a new technology budget, but getting invited to the table.

The reality is that, if you don’t market, you’re out of sight. If you’re out of sight, you’re out of mind. If you’re out of mind, you’re NOT getting that RFI or cold-call. If you don’t get that RFI or cold-call from a customer with money to spend, you’re not getting any new customers. If at most 10% of the market is buying, how likely are you to find a lead through cold calling who’ll invite you to the table … before they’ve already bought a competitor’s solution?

Continued Workforce Development

At the end of the day, your success all comes down to your people. Companies don’t build products … people build products. Companies don’t design winning marketing campaigns … people design winning marketing campaigns. Companies don’t think … people are the thought leaders. And if your budget is tight, you shouldn’t be adding too many bodies … when you need to add brainpower. And you do that by developing the staff you already have. If we’re truly moving to a knowledge and innovation economy, then you’re going to get a lot more out of educated, experienced, well-trained staff than just a body in a chair. The best developers can be 20 times as productive as an average developer (using bug-free lines of code as a metric). The best inventors can produce 10 times as many inventions. The best through leaders can produce market-changing ideas where an average person just produces refinements that might not even get noticed at all. Relatively speaking, a few dollars on training can lead to a few thousand in productivity gains.

Continued Process Improvement

And I don’t just mean doing the same process better. I mean bringing in an expert to do a complete review of your development, delivery, and operational processes to find opportunities for improvement that you won’t notice when buried in day-to-day operations. This lowers your costs, which allows you to lower your prices, which allows you to grab more market share. You don’t necessarily have to hire a McKinsey Partner at 5K a day either … there are plenty of niche consultants who can jump in, do a focussed assessment, and net you great results for 1.5K to 2.5K a day in a couple of weeks … paying for themselves almost immediately.