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Easier Sale?

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I had a conversation with an early Bullhorn client a couple weeks ago, Dave Melville, President of The Bowdoin Group. We got to talking about Bullhorn’s growth and he asked me if we were having an easier time winning new business now that On Demand applications has become so popular and we were a mature company with hundreds (and hundreds) of customers.

Dave signed up with us in November of 2002. He and I had been talking since March of 2001. With a 21 month sales cycle, winning Dave’s business was no lay-up. Considering the circumstances, who could blame him for wanting to make sure he was picking the right partner? In 2001, Bullhorn was just a fledgling company. The dotcom bust and September 11th had everyone on edge. Young software companies were dropping like flies. The business outlook for most staffing firms was bleak. The outlook for a software firm that had anything to do with the Internet was absolutely abysmal. Most of our sales pitches went something like this, “I’ve never heard of Bullfrog.com… sorry, Bullhorn, Inc. So, am I to understand that you want to host my data on the Internet? Do you live under a rock? The Internet is over.” Fortunately, the Internet wasn’t “over” – just the opposite. When Dave did finally sign up at the end of 2002, we had signed up another 65 customers and brought the product through at least 15 upgrades. Dave watched us grow, watched the product evolve and after countless affirmations that we were here to stay and would defend his data, he signed up. Bullhorn didn’t stop evolving in 2002.Dave can tell you that we’ve upgraded Bullhorn so many times since then he probably wouldn’t recognize the system he used in 2002. Like most staffing firms using a client/server system, upgrades were included in his yearly maintenance plan, but were seldom installed.

The On Demand delivery model changes that and The Bowdoin Group’s use of Dragnet is a good example. The answer to Dave’s question is that it is easier for Bullhorn to win business than it was in 2002. It’s always easier to win in an expanding economy. Add to that the fact that we have over 600 customers in 20 countries (just added Saudi Arabia last week) and just over 8000 users and it should be a recipe for easy wins. And, just as our customers are struggling to find candidates that were in such great supply in 2002, Bullhorn has met a new set of challenges in 2007. In 2002, customers were concerned with Bullhorn’s viability and our delivery model. It was a huge barrier in the sales process. Today, customers enter the sales process with an understanding of the benefits on our delivery model. Even the largest staffing firms, who said they would never go with a solution hosted off-site, realize that with an On Demand solution they can focus on their core rather than build IT infrastructure.

As you might expect, there are still customers who want an on-site solution. But, even Microsoft is racing to develop online versions of its office-suite to compete with Google. By and large, we don’t spend as much time “selling” our delivery model to customers any more. Today, what we’re selling against is a different beast all together: implementation strain. Customers want to know how they can move to a new application without disrupting their employees’ work-flow. To be specific, they want to go live without missing a deal.

In 2002, there was so little job activity that customers had plenty of time to roll out and adopt a new system. Now that job flow has picked up the pace and candidates are scarce, every second counts. Even if a system is easy to learn, like Bullhorn, recruiters and sales people still have to unlearn their old system. We do a great job of minimizing these disruptions in the implementation process, but if you’ve never been through it, how would you know that? You’re certainly not going to believe a sales person. Yes, you can talk to references, but then again, you’re “not like other staffing and recruiting firms”. So, we wrestle with phased roll outs, weekend migrations, and slow-season trainings.

In 2002, the Director of IT or in some cases, the Director of Recruiting was a great candidate to manage the project internally because they weren’t buried in work. But, now many of our larger firms are turning to contract project managers. The hardest part is the fact that it’s become very difficult to get a decision maker on the phone. Most of them have seen their business grow so much that they have 20 people reporting to them and are running a desk to keep up with deal flow. While it’s true that our sales team isn’t hitting the Staples Easy Button every time they win a deal, it has gotten a lot easier.