Recently, I got into an eight-ball match straight out of my worst nightmare. I don't know where my game went, but I couldn't have hit a ball with a shotgun. I was so pitiful that my opponent offered advice instead of sarcasm.
He said, "When I'm in a funk as bad as you are, I always find it helps to go back to basics." In pool, that means keep your eye on the object ball, not the next one you plan to make. Shoot straight through the middle of the cue ball without applying spin. Don't even think about making every ball on the table in one turn. Above all, don't rush the shot; take as much time as you need to get your stance, stroke and aim right before you pull the trigger. Similar advice can help you work through the current business slump.
Pick your best shotthe one you're most comfortable withand stay focused on it. Focus on what you have done well in the past with the skills and customers you know best. Stressful, uncertain times are not ideal for experiments with unfamiliar business models, markets or partners.
Give all of your attention to doing the best job you can on the project you're performing today. On a pool table, perfect execution of the current shot often yields "natural setup" on the next shot. The same is true in business: A job well done frequently yields referrals to other good jobs.
Strive for the simplest solutionthe one with the fewest possible points of failure. Customers don't care how cool a solution is; they just want one that gets the job done. An IT solution that depends on perfect performance by multiple vendors, service providers, your own staff and your customers' personnel is like a bank shot that needs just the right amount of sidespin. It's impressive when it works, but it doesn't work very often.
Your business mission should be simple, too. Don't make a prospect ask twice, "What exactly do you do?" Professional Data Systems sells turn key information systems "for the small-to-midsized distributor of durable goods." They don't pretend to be "redefining global supply-chain paradigms."
Network-attached storage, this week's Solutions feature topic, isn't all that complicated either. ECCS Inc. transformed the U.S. Army's personnel records department from a slow-moving bureaucracy into an open, Internet-accessible re source center by, basically, adding a few disk drives. ECCS' precise execution of a simple "shot" gave them another shotat an Air Force storage project.
Vendors' partner programs are getting overly complicated, too. A PR guy e-mailed me an invitation to speak with an HP executive about their latest small-business service. When I asked how my readers could make money with it, he replied that they definitely could, but the program was "too complex to explain via e-mail." So how was I supposed to explain it on paper?
When the going gets tough, slow down. Think about each step before you take it. Qualify your prospects. Take time out for training and refresher seminars. Interview more candidates before making a key hire. Evaluate more vendors before committing to a partnership.
When you go back to the basics, you'll close a higher percentage of deals. Each deal you make will move you closer to the next one. It worked for my pool game, and it will work for you.