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What to do when the well runs dry

This is a disruptive time for professional services organizations. For many of them, business development pipelines are drying up, delivery personnel are becoming idle, and leaders aren’t sure what to do next. Sometimes it’s the first downturn of their careers (or the first downturn in their professional services career), and they’re uncertain what to do. Let’s explore some options. 

Option one: Go back to the well

Every business wants to be in a groove, so this isn’t terribly surprising: if you’ve been making money happily for years doing X, your salespeople know how to sell X, the team has gotten very good at delivering X, so let’s keep doing X!

The problem of course is that in today’s market, X isn’t selling, particularly if X was a service for e-commerce, retail, banking, or startups. Those organizations still have problems that X can solve, but they don’t have money to spend solving it. As comfortable as your people are with X, it’s just not working. 

Option two: go thirsty

I’ve spoken to several leaders and more than a few executives who can see what’s happening to their business, but don’t know how to prevent it: they ran a very successful business for years, but it was during a time of unprecedented demand for technical skills. As a result, they’re unable to adapt, hoping that the water returns to the well, or that it rains. If they’re have agency over the situation (read: they own the company), they might feel paralyzed by the situation they’re seeing, confronted by overwhelming unknowns. For professional services leaders who are non-executives (running a service offering or a region), they can't see how the things they're empowered to change will make any difference. In either case, the the result is the same: the business goes thirsty for want of sales. 

Option three: find more water

This probably sounds trite and simple if your well has run dry before. But if your business has never had to pursue another market, or build a deeper pipeline this is really scary: not only do you need to build a sales pipeline, you might need to learn how to do it as you’re building it, including learning marketing, more sophisticated sales, understanding a new market, and making changes to delivery. It’s incredibly overwhelming and it’s no surprise that people avoid it in favor of the other two options. 

While it’s completely understandable human behavior to try out options one and two, for the business to survive it’s imperative that “water-finding” become a part of the business. Beyond servicing a market you’re comfortable with, your people need to be looking for new markets to sell to when this market dries up. Your business can develop those skills!

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