Eye on the States: Can you answer the 'dreaded question'?

Thomas Davies

"Does your company use offshore resources for any of its state and local business?" That's the most dreaded question for companies with business in this market -- and there is no easy answer to it.

Some feel the news about states considering restricting business with companies that use offshore resources is election-year hysteria. But this issue has legs far beyond the elections.

The issue isn't whether any of the legislation -- proposed in 26 states and counting -- will ever pass. Legislation, executive orders and other policy instruments only reflect the political climate in the states. For those who haven't been to a city council or state legislature recently, take my word for it: The atmosphere doesn't lend itself to reasoned debates about the merits of free trade, globalization and offshore resources.

Offshoring easily could become a wedge issue, causing everyone to choose sides, and this is why you need to be ready to answer that question. You don't want to give an answer that you aren't 100 percent sure is correct. An incorrect answer, however well intended, could cost you the hard-won trust of your customers.

Don't think it can't happen to you. Recently, I was at a government technology conference, listening to a distinguished panel of industry representatives, when an elected official in the audience posed the dreaded question. Each industry panelist responded, in unison, that none of their companies use offshore resources to support state and local business.

Little did they know ...

I found out later that week that, for a least one of the companies, the opposite is true. Not only does this company use offshore resources, it does so quite openly and routinely lets clients know this. Offshoring has worked out so well for the company, it is now expanding its offshore capabilities.

Get the facts straight about what offshore business your company is doing. Not only do you need the facts, but also you want your company to stand behind those facts. For those of you who like to split hairs, I wouldn't recommend doing so if you're ever on the point to respond to this question. Don't try to finesse your response by debating the meaning of the word "offshore." Just remember: The cover up is always worse than the crime.

Make sure everyone at your company knows the facts and stays on script. If explaining why your company uses offshore resources makes you squirm, imagine how uncomfortable you're going to feel when you find the answer you gave your customer doesn't jibe with what other executives in your company have said.

One last tip: If you're prepared, answering this question can be an opportunity to educate your state or local customer about the use of offshore resources. Take the time to explain the types of offshore resources you use, the locations, how long you've been using them, the benefits, how jobs don't have to be put at risk, how privacy can be protected and so forth.

Rest assured that if the dreaded question is asked, your customers will be interested in your response. Like you, they want to get the answer right the first time.

Thomas Davies is senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. His e-mail address is tdavies@currentanalysis.com.

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