Bob Din didn’t want to overhaul his sales approach at En Pointe Technologies Inc. But the recession and resulting drop in company revenue was forcing his hand.
“The recession was tough on the IT business,” says Din, founder, chairman and CEO at the 1,200-employee technology solutions provider. “People really did not have the kind of money or budgets or allocation to spend on IT. Everybody was looking to cut expenses.”
En Pointe helps business and organizations in a variety of sectors find IT solutions that make it easier to get work done. Din’s problem was that a growing number of customers could no longer afford his services and as a result, business volume was dropping off significantly.
“Let’s say they are going to buy $1 million of equipment,” Din says. “The recession hits, business slows down and they say, ‘OK, this $1 million? We don’t have $1 million to spend anymore. Maybe we buy $100,000 worth of equipment.’”
That’s a pretty big chunk of revenue to lose and Din needed to find a way to stop the bleeding. In order to do that, he had to show customers that he both understood what they were going through and was willing to shake things up to retain their business.
“If you just sit in your store and hope like hell somebody is going to call you, it just doesn’t work,” Din says.
While many of his customers couldn’t afford the same large-scale purchases they had been making to that point, it wasn’t as if they wanted to stop doing business with him entirely. But it was up to Din to get creative and find a scenario where they could get what they needed and he could still make money.
He decided to allow customers to make monthly payments for products and services that they needed. It was certainly not a revolutionary idea. But Din wasn’t looking to remake the sales industry. He just needed a way to keep his customers and he felt he had an idea that would work.
“The benefit for the customer was he didn’t have to come up with all the money,” Din says. “We ended up getting more business because most of our competitors were not thinking like that. The advice is simply don’t just sit and wait.”
It’s this willingness to adapt that has helped Din grow En Pointe from the company he founded in 1993 to a leader today in the providing of IT services. The success of the customer solution allowed him to spend more time developing the company’s evolving cloud technology.
Here’s how Din keeps his wits about him during difficult times and works with those around him to find solutions to key problems at En Pointe.
Don’t give up
If there is a problem threatening your business, such as the sharp drop in sales volume Din was witnessing at En Pointe, you’ve got to believe that the solution to that problem is right around the next corner. And if you don’t believe that, you’ve got to at least convince your employees that you believe a solution is within reach.
“You as a leader cannot come to your office with your face down, depressed and thinking the sky is falling,” Din says. “You have to look at positive things and not negative things. Setbacks are always there in business. Sometimes you lose a big customer. Sometimes this happens or that happens. You’ve got to be strong.”
When you leave your office, find a way to blow off some steam. But when you return or if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t leave the office, you’ve got to find a way to keep your cool and stay upbeat for your team.
“Your employees and your associates, they look to you as their leader,” Din says. “If you go down and get depressed, the morale of the whole company is going to go down. You cannot afford to be down. You’ve got to put a brave foot forward. ‘Yes, we’re going to overcome that. These are the challenges and it’s going to take us a little longer, but we’ll get there. You as the leader have to have that leadership quality to take everybody with you and keep everybody motivated.”
Of course, putting on a happy face is only part of the answer.
Din still had to solve the problem of losing customers. But the key to finding an effective solution was that he launched into the effort with a positive mindset. It kept him feeling good and gave his employees a better outlook on the future as well.
Din recalled the challenges he faced when he launched his first business in the early 1980s.
“Back when I started my computer store, everybody said, ‘You’re crazy,’” Din says. “People are going out of business. Why are you buying that? It doesn’t make any sense. I believed I would go in there and I could turn it around and I could go out and start selling. I went outside and looked at how many customers are coming into a typical store and I believed I could do better. Whatever your idea is, really believe in it. You have to believe in whatever you are doing. Don’t let people bring you down and be persistent about it.”
Flashing forward to En Pointe, Din was confident that if his team sat down and put their heads together, they could come up with a way to make a financing option work for his customers.
“The bottom line is, when you run into challenges, sitting back and strategizing is something that is very important,” Din says. “What you cannot do as an entrepreneur is say, ‘We’re working really hard,’ but you never take the time to sit down and think out the strategy. This is where the market is going. Sit down and think about it. Debate it a little bit and see where you want to go. Think about how you are going to solve the customer’s problem.”
There may even be times when you find it helpful to break away from the team for a bit to gather your own thoughts. Don’t be afraid to do that, and then return to the team and continue moving forward with whatever new ideas you have come up with.
“Obviously, your objective is how do I make more money and more business?” Din says. “That’s very challenging in a day-to-day environment because you get into your office and there are so many people after you that you just don’t have the time to think and strategize.”
Whatever you need to do to get your mind around the solution, and then engage your team in the plan to make it happen, you need to do it. The key is approaching the process with an attitude that success can be achieved.
Back up your plan
When Din reached out to banks and lenders who could potentially handle the financing end of his monthly payment plan option for customers, he made sure he had all his facts straight about what he wanted to do.
“You line yourself up with some finance company who would actually do the financing for you, as long as you can get them to back you up,” Din says. “If I’m sitting in their shoes, the first thing I’m thinking is, I want to understand whoever is applying for the loan and their ability to pay me back. Is he really capable? Your personal integrity — that’s so important to the bankers. You’ve got to go and tell them how credible you are. Tell them a story that shows your integrity. You want to establish credibility because lenders want to lend to forthright people.”
In addition to your ethical standing, you want to convince lenders that you have a plan for what you’re going to do with the funding you are seeking.
“When you are seeking money, you have to have your own projections, you have to have your balance sheet and your income statement,” Din says. “You really have to understand it yourself. You can’t, as an entrepreneur, say, ‘Oh, here’s my CFO. I don’t understand finance. Why don’t you talk to him?’ The minute you say that to somebody, especially if you have a business which does not have any hard assets, most lenders tend to shy away. Understand your numbers inside and out and understand your projections inside and out.”
Tell them about what you want to do and don’t worry about sticking to only the financial details. That can only help reinforce your commitment to the project in their eyes and increase the likelihood that they will decide to help you.
“This is what we’re doing,” Din says. “These are the customers we are targeting. This is what our products and services are and this is how much money we expect to make. This is how long it’s going to take. That is the message you have to convey — why your products and services are better than your potential competitors. That’s what it takes.”
Even if you meet with a lender and get turned down, if you’re paying attention to what they are saying, it doesn’t have to be a waste of your time.
“The people who turn you down, the best thing you can do is ask them, ‘Hey, what is missing?” Din says. “What was wrong? What if I had certain things, would you lend me money? It’s a learning process. Then you understand the objections you’re going to get from the next person so you’re better prepared to address them or put it in your business plan and cover it upfront when you go to see them.”
Appraise your customers
The worst thing that can happen when you enter into a financing arrangement with your customers is obviously that they fail to follow through on making their payments.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where after two months, they tell you, ‘I don’t have the money to pay you,’” Din says. “You want to make sure their finances warrant that they can turn around and pay you and that they are going to be around.”
Find a credit service bureau and run a report on the business you’re talking to.
“Just like consumers, I can run your credit report any day, any time,” Din says. “Similarly for businesses, there are a lot of services available where you can run a credit report on the business and figure out how strong their balance sheets are and how strong their income statements are. Then check a couple of their references.”
Din prefers to focus on who a company’s major suppliers are and who that company’s biggest customers are. He also likes to get out and meet with the finance person from the company he’s considering doing business with.
“You’re going to give them something on rent, you want to make sure they have the ability to continue paying you,” Din says. “Go and see the customer and look them in the eye. Ninety percent of the entrepreneurs are smart enough to figure it out sitting in front of them if the person is lying or where they stand.”
In the end, it may come down to a gut decision. And Din suggest you err on the side of caution.
“If you have a deal that is skinny to start with and the company is marginal, it’s better to pass on that sale than to have a sale and then not be able to collect,” Din says. “One, you’re not making enough money to start with and then if they don’t pay you, it really hurts you.”
How to reach: En Pointe Technologies Inc., (310) 337-5200 or www.enpointe.com
The Din File
Born: Lahore, Pakistan
Education: Undergraduate degree, engineering, Northrop Institute of Technology, Los Angeles; MBA, University of West Los Angeles
Who has been the biggest influence on you?
I have been very fortunate in a lot of ways. I wish I had mentors, but I really didn’t. What I had was a lot of customers who were very kind and gracious and certainly helped me in a lot of areas in business and finance and so forth. My mother’s family, a lot of them are in business. They always inspired me by how well they were doing, which inspired me to go into my own business.
What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Believe in yourself. If you believe in something, believe in that. I always believed in myself that I could accomplish it.
What was it about going into business that intrigued you?
I always wanted to have my own business. I did finish my degree, but the rewards of owning your own business are tremendous. People say there are a lot of good things. You can set up your own times, you don’t have to report to anybody, but you end up working way more than a normal person. We work twice as hard.