According to some economists, America’s decade-long economic expansion may be coming to an end, and we may be spiraling toward the bottom. Veterans in the building service industry might see echoes of the 1987 to 1992 era; during those years, customers were hard to find and competition was fierce. Labor, on the other hand, was plentiful.

During a recession, clients begin to put the squeeze on their vendors to provide the same level of service, but at a lower price. They begin looking for ways to consolidate vendors, and “play” one price against another. Ancillary services such as floor maintenance and carpet cleaning are not a top priority unless it is included in the monthly cost. And separately billed work almost completely stops during a recession.

When the economy is good, clients want quality services and select the service that provides the best level of service for the dollar. During a recession, the lowest bid always wins.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel! The proverbial doom and gloom actually can result in new opportunities. The search for additional revenue is two-fold. First, new clients must be located, and second, finding ancillary services to sell to augment existing revenue. This means your company may have to look “outside of the box” and move toward offering innovative new services to generate more revenue.

New business and leads
One of the first cost-cutting steps business owners feel they must take is reducing their sales force. Unfortunately, too often BSCs view the sales people as a cost center and therefore see firing the sales staff as a way to save money.

But a recession is the very time to goose up and boost up sales. But all sales people need to be at their most productive during this time.

To encourage more production, a bonus plan or sales contest could be implemented, such as a “First to sell $50,000 a month in new business wins $1,000” promotion. Commission increases could work, too.

The sales staff should look for new business by keeping abreast of business news, research and referrals from current clients.

Business news
Numerous leads can be found by simply reading the paper and keeping abreast of local and national business news. In most metropolitan areas, the Sunday business section announces new businesses moving into the area or companies that have recently moved to a new location.

Another method is to keep abreast of companies that are downsizing, especially if they have an in-house cleaning department. This is an excellent opportunity to show the company the cost-savings benefit of outsourcing their janitorial services. The main point to convey to companies with in-house staff is that they are paying more for labor than they would with a BSC.

Also, all equipment costs and equipment repairs are the responsibility of the in-house company. Further, their management is supervising the staff, whereas, with a BSC, all costs associated with janitorial are significantly lower. This is the best way to sell to the in-house company.

Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has been a great source of information. It takes a lot of imagination and resourcefulness, but by trying various search engines you can locate thousands of leads. This medium is inexpensive, quick and you can locate more leads than you could possibly contact in a lifetime.

For instance, try visiting a search engine and typing in, “Largest businesses in Chicago.” It will bring up matching Web sites. The Lycos search engine seems to be quite useful in this respect; others to try include Google, Yahoo and Altavista.

Also, try looking at your city’s Chamber of Commerce Web site. Many of the listings either have an e-mail address for a company contact or a link to the company’s Web site.
Also, try looking in association directories, such as IFMA (International Facility Management Association) and BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) to find new clients. Both BOMA and IFMA have limited memberships available for what they call the “allied” members who sell to traditional members. This is so that they are not overwhelmed at the meeting with vendors vying for their business.

If you join as an allied member, you can attend meetings. But don’t use BOMA/IFMA meetings to actively sell; simply introduce yourself and ask for a business card and permission to send an e-mail.

E-mail is possibly the best untapped resource for getting sales appointments. First, the message gets to the prospect immediately, and most e-mails are read and responded to promptly. Secondly, if you solicited the wrong person via e-mail, you generally will be directed to the correct contact.

For the best response, state your request simply and succinctly, and don’t oversell: “I am with Corporate Care in Ft. Worth, Texas, a national specialty maintenance company. I would like to visit with you at your convenience about our services. I can be reached at 817-555-5555. Thank you in advance.”

Since your current clients are your best reference, ask for referrals. Most industries have trade groups, and if your client is a member of an association where there are potential clients for your company, ask to borrow their membership book to review.

Going one step further, ask if you can use their name to get into the door. For example, if you’re courting business in a particular neighborhood, tell the prospect about any other companies in that area you’re currently servicing. If you’re branching into new cities, tell the prospect of similar accounts you’re successfully servicing — and offer references.

Ancillary services
The more services you provide to your customer, the more painful it becomes for them to terminate your contract, says Dr. John Monoky, author of Be Your Own Sales Manager. So get out of the office one day and take your best customer to lunch. Ask what services are outsourced at their company and inquire if your company offered those services, would they give you the business. If your company can readily provide that labor, you can add a profit center to your business and eliminate a cost center for your client.

For instance, in manufacturing plants, there are a large number of unskilled tasks such as recycling, product stocking or simple line work. Since BSCs typically have a good labor pool, menially tasked jobs might be a natural fit. One innovative BSC in the Dallas area provides labor to restock copy paper in all the copies in one of its largest accounts, and another in the San Jose, Calif. area provides an airport shuttle service to its top client.

Discussing these potential services with your client shouldn’t be difficult. Simply state a fact, then offer your services:

“I see that you have a groundskeeping service for your lawn care. Were you aware that we can also provide that service?”

“Many companies are consolidating the number of vendors they use, and if you are interested in reducing your vendors, let’s discuss the other services our company can offer.”

“We’ve been working with the XYZ Manufacturing Company for a few years now and we’re supplying them with their temporary warehouse labor. Would you be interested in comparing costs between our company and the temporary service?”

“I noticed in the paper the other day that you’re advertising for a light maintenance worker. We might be able to help you fill this position and run them through our payroll.”

Whether the extended service is groundskeeping, power washing, blind cleaning, temporary labor, warehouse staff, pest control, HVAC maintenance, light building maintenance and repairs, painting, mail services, parking lot attendants, or light fixture maintenance, all these services could easily be managed by the inventive and resourceful BSC.

Dannette Young is with Corporate Care, a national specialty services organization with headquarters in Houston. She can be reached at the Fort Worth, Texas office at 817-296-7189.