In operating an I.T. service business for over two decades, I have observed a tendency for some clients to hesitate on making investments that are necessary to keep their network infrastructure current and as secure as possible.
They explain their hesitation in a way that sounds logical on the face of it. Some examples are:
1. Cannot afford it. There is a general and sustained tightness in the budget. The investment makes sense, and the risks are real, but the client expresses the feeling that “we are just going to have to take our chances.”
2. Not the right time. We are experiencing a temporary cash flow issue. Often, this reason persists over a long duration, even with repeated follow-up. In the meantime, the client may be seen making other discretionary investments such as vehicles, building improvements, and hiring staff. Life seems to go on.
3. I.T. expenses are out of control. The client expresses the feeling that the overall spending level on I.T. seems high compared to their expectations. It is always disturbing as a vendor to not meet expectations. Usually, though, it turns out that the expectations are rooted in what they used to pay before their business grow to have more sophisticated requirements. Nonetheless, the feelings persist that costs should remain the same.
It is interesting that the client is most comfortable implying the lack of action has to do with the dollar figure involved, as a way to put a brake on making necessary changes. We sometimes feel we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings and pointing to the sticker price seems to be a proven strategy to try to save face. It’s like saying “it’s not you, it’s me.” It can be tempting to take all of this at face value and start thinking of ways to cut corners to shaving down costs, to make it possible, to implement at least some of the necessary changes. But this impulse is counterproductive. While there certainly are rare circumstances where this might apply, realistically, it is best to assume that is never the real issue.
As anyone with experience in the industry can attest, with I.T. related issues, the R.O.I. (return on investment) on well thought out recommendations, are almost always ridiculously high, in the order of 100% to 300%, sometimes even higher. As I.T. consultants, we should be proud of our ability to deliver such amazing results. People jump at the opportunity to pay off credit card balances subject to interest rates above 15% APR. People energetically start liquidating personal possessions to take advantage of the opportunity to earn 20-30% returns. In fact, the whole effort to start a business is about on going after an opportunity for high returns on investment of time and money. So the small business owner is well aware of the benefit of investing. It is redundant and insulting to attempt to explain that to them. And yet, they do not act on the opportunity to get 100-300% returns. Why?
Invariably, these issues come down to lack of belief in the benefits or risks as the I.T. consultant has presented it. When we describe opportunities to improve the performance of the network or describe risks factors, it initially lands in the listener’s mind as hypothetical. Something has to happen to bridge this with the day to day reality of business and real money in the bank. There are only three main ways for this bridging to occur:
1. By direct knowledge. The client knows enough about technology so that the described scenario translates into something real. It is great when we can talk to people who have this level of knowledge and understanding. It is rare. And not realistic to expect. We all specialize in something, and the client did not choose to go into the I.T. field.
2. By trust. The I.T. consultant has taken the time to establish and nurture a relationship where the client feels comfortable with the consultant. Because of this, as soon as we describe a risk, the client is alarmed and ready to take action. If we have failed to take the time to nurture this kind of relationship, the client’s reaction is more akin to receiving a random sales call. The client puts up a wall and has a thought like – “Here we go again. What is he trying to sell me this time?”
3. Something happens. Maybe the office staff reports a blinking red screen, demanding a ransom payment. All of a sudden, the hypothetical has crashed into reality and merged into one. By then, it is too late to take preventive measures. Recovering from the situation is costly. The business may never fully recover.
It is only by keeping impeccable levels of communication and trust that the I.T. consultant can collaborate with the client to keep systems in good shape, and mitigate any identifiable risks in a timely way, and seize every economic opportunity to improve performance.
If there are any identified risk or performance areas on the table that sit there for months or years without action, it is a sure sign of trouble. It is critical in such a situation for the I.T. consultant to step up and improve communications, to re-establish trust. If this is not possible, the time may be right for the client to find someone else they feel they can trust. In either case, keeping the status quo is not a good option. The affected client is losing money daily from lost productivity and exposed to unnecessary risk.
The primary responsibility is on the I.T. consultant to watch for this situation and take corrective steps to fix it. The client is counting on this, and it is too late keeping some mediocre status quo for years, suffering bad performance in the meantime, or major disaster strikes, because the consultant is too shy to go in there and repair the social aspect of the relationship that needs repair.
The good news is that by keeping the communication and trust level with the client on a healthy footing, you can benefit from a collaborative energy, which means you can provide an infrastructure humming with efficiency, and everybody wins.