(This post in another in our series of Rainmaking Problems. We invite your comments on this problem and would also welcome any problems you would like to s to get comments form other readers.)
I recently met with a client adjusting from the heady days of a boom economy to the current bust. Several of its professionals argued that they hadn’t been in a sellers’ market. Competition for large projects was always tough, they said, and though they had won a lot, they had lost some, too. True enough, but their firm’s major competitors had grown at rates over 20 percent per year and the firm, itself, faster than that, while maintaining or increasing prices. Sounds like a sellers’ market to me.
There is good reason to clarify this point, because recognizing when one is tipping from a sellers’ to a buyers’ market or vice verssus has important implications for many professional firms. That’s because the price of many professional services is quite elastic with demand. Boom turns to bust quite suddenly (see my post, Selling Professional Services in a Downturn, for an explanation of why), and you have to drop prices quickly, if you want to keep winning work. The market teaches this quite effectively, when too many firms compete for too few projects or assignments and clients play them off against each other to get the best deal.
When the tide turns to boom again, clients aren’t nearly so quick to help you see that you can raise your rates. This means that prices tend to go up more slowly in good times than they go down in bad. The firm which recognizes when it can charge its clients more generates much higher profits than its competitors.
My question is, how will we know when this downturn is over and we can begin to push up rates?