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Will the enterprise market spend significant IT budget on Windows Vista in 2007?



Maintaining a Positive Culture in a Tough Market
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Is your messaging crisp or ambiguous?
Is everyone clear on the value you bring to your customers and how to communicate that value? As an exercise, get as many responses as you can muster on this question (customers, board, employees, analysts etc). If the findings are that your firm is a collaboration/portal company that helps solve knowledge management and business intelligence issues for the Global 2000 through a robust platform that is based on the most up to date web services and integration standards, step back and take some time to craft a new message that is clear and focused.

Start this process by identifying the specific business uses for your product and determine the reasoning behind why your customers need to deal with this pain now instead of putting it off for 12 months. Nothing is wrong with being a knowledge management or business intelligence company but do yourself a favor and ask ‘what do we mean by that?’ If you can’t explain it to the average joe on the street and have them understand it in under 2 minutes it will likely be difficult to generate internal sponsors in key accounts that can effectively communicate how you will save them money or help them increase revenue. Living in a messaging gray zone makes people unsure and will create ideal breeding grounds for the Why me? demons.

Are you taking care of our customers?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one…A software salesperson, given a choice between heaven and hell, asked if he could take a look at both. An angel guided him to a sunny beach where beautiful people were playing volleyball. “This is hell.” said the angel. He then showed the salesperson a bunch of oldsters sitting on park benches feeding pigeons. “This is heaven.” the angel said. “I'll take hell.” declared the salesperson and he was instantly thrust into a flaming pit of molten lava. “Where's the beach? The volleyball?” he shrieked. The angel then coldly replied “You should have known better...that was the demo!”

The moral here obviously is that, especially in a down market where F500 companies are showing increasing openness to switching vendors if support suffers, it is imperative that you ensure they are gaining real value from your products and services on a continuing basis. The minute you neglect your hard won accounts or, even worse, wow them on the front end and then stick them with a half-baked solution as our friend the angel did, chances are you will lose out to increasingly hungry and creative competition. A forfeited customer provides just the right fuel to your organization’s pessimists to start spreading their fires.

Are you being ‘real’ about pipeline activity?
Conservative spending has had a disturbing side effect on people’s reaction to small wins during the sales process. This is understandable to a degree given that for most they have been so few and far between. The point here is to remember that as customers start to display buying signs, do not start eyeing the champagne bottles just yet. You may have made it to the final two vendors out of the previous list of seven but nothing is guaranteed until the contract is signed, the check is in AND the customer is deriving tangible value from your solution.

To provide a frighteningly real recent example, all employees of a young infrastructure software company received an internal memo from the CEO announcing they had secured a major customer that was key to investors recommitting in the next round of financing. This note was followed up by a retraction four hours later stating they had unfortunately jumped the gun and the deal was not quite closed yet. What they had was a verbal commitment from the prospective customer that they were the ‘likely’ choice for this technology purchase. The company went from a full head of steam to everyone being worried about whether or not there was a real future in store. Setting positive expectations for early pipeline activity can create the impetus for cynicism later so be sure to let the ink dry before rallying the troops!

Asking these questions and being brutally frank in your responses can initiate the drive towards creating a make it happen culture. These all may seem easy but again, knowing is not always doing. So, how is the market treating you?

Mark Fitzpatrick is a Partner at Sterling-Hoffman, a retained executive search firm focused on VP Sales, VP Marketing, and CEO searches for enterprise software companies and lead investor in http://www.softwaresalesjobs.com, the # 1 site for software sales jobs. Mark can be reached for feedback at mark@sterlinghoffman.com.


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