This is a true story.
It highlights three highly important aspects of business development that could have a positive effect on your ability to win more business in the future.
Here we go then.
In a previous life I owned and ran an IT recruitment company. One of our targets was a water company who we conservatively estimated spent £15m ($22m) on contract IT people each year and we badly wanted a piece of that action.
The person who gave out the work, we’ll call him Brian, and I didn’t really get on. Our moral compasses pointed in different directions and I wasn’t prepared to do what others did to secure business from him. He would mess me about no end: cancelling meetings at the last minute and breaking promises but I pressed on.
Then two things happened at pretty much the same time.
Firstly, a contractor who was working for me and had worked at the water company before, let’s call her Alice, was contacted by her old agency to go back to work on a specific project that she had extensive knowledge of. She refused to go back unless it was through me.
Secondly, Brian called me up to say he had good news and bad news: good news was they would let Alice come back through me (whoopee); bad news was they had just installed a supplier panel for 3 years and I wasn’t on it (booooo). He also added that he was moving to another part of the organisation, I took this as more good news but didn’t let on.
Then a new resource manager turned up, why don’t we call him Pete, who I only got to see because I had Alice on site. Had I not then he would have given me the brush off like all the other wannabe agencies (lesson #1).
My relationship with Pete was different from the start: identical moral compasses, the same interests and an amazingly similar sense of humour. Added to this early on he gave me a really obscure technical requirement that his panel suppliers had drawn a blank on and after working solidly on it for 2 weeks I found somebody. Our relationship entered a new phase as a consequence (lesson #2).
Roll forward three years. We had over 70 contractors on site making us the second biggest provider of contractors even though we could only get the requirement 3 days after the panel suppliers. I also had excellent working relationships with Pete and all the hiring managers (lesson #3).
So let’s summarise those key lessons: -
- The difference between zero and 1 is greater than 1 and a hundred. Being on the sales ledger makes all the difference so do what you need to in order to make it happen. Had I not had Alice on site I would not have got to see Pete and you wouldn’t be reading this blog post.
- Do something exceptional. The other agencies gave up because the requirement I satisfied was hard and one of many so they just pressed on to the next easier one. I didn’t. If you succeed where others have failed great things can happen and frequently do.
- It’s all about strength of relationships. When it comes down to it people buy from those they like, trust and feel valued by, Pete certainly did and it helped me to overcome the strictest of supplier rules. Added to that I also established a relationship with all the line managers who actually had the need for IT contractors. Relationships based upon trust and affinity will always trump those based on process and rules.
For what it’s worth this is the best of several very similar stories from that era that all deliver the same key messages which are as relevant today as they were then.
If you have time I would really like to hear comments from anybody with similar relationship-based success stories. Thanks you.
Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It comes down to one question that you need to ask of each client relationship you have:
“Can I send non-work related texts to this person and feel confident that they will reply?”
That’s it really.
- Yes – your relationship is where you need it to be. Keep it fresh and keep it active.
- No - keep the dialogue going, get to know them more and add whatever value you can. If nothing improves give the client to somebody else to manage; sometimes the spark just isn’t there.
You’re really seeking a client relationship which is 5% off being the same as you have with your friends. When you can pass the “Text-test” you’ll know you’ve reached it.
Given the choice people buy from those they Like, Trust and feel Valued by.
Why do we buy branded bottled water when tap water tastes just the same and is cheaper?
Why do we choose the branded breakfast cereal when we know that the supermarket own-brand is made in the same factory?
Why do we buy VW rather than Seat when they use the same technology and are built to the same standards?
Why do we buy designer brands that are often inferior quality when less popular alternatives are much better value for money?
Because the companies that sell them have collectively spent billions of pounds creating brands that we like, trust and feel valued by. So if you want to be a consistently great sales person all you have to do is make people feel liked, trusted and valued and wait for the orders to roll in.
Is it that simple? Yes, it is and here’s what you need to do: -
- even if you are trading with other businesses it will be a person who decides to use you and they will opt for people they LTV.
- never fake it – folks will spot this at a 100 paces and they WON’T like it.
- being likeable is about being yourself and recognising that not everybody will like you – get over it and move on.
- being trusted is easy-peasy: never make a promise you can’t keep and if you are going to let them down tell them ASAP and make up for it in some way.
- being valued means being appreciated, recognised, rewarded and cared for. I’d start with how you like to be treated and go from there – not rocket science really.
- building relationships takes time but is totally worth it.
- keep in regular touch with your peeps. Relationships only exist through interaction. Without some kind of interaction they are just people you know.
So there you have it dear reader. Build strong LTV relationships with people who you can help by exchanging your products or services for their money and you’ll never have to sell another thing in your life.
I have written about perceived indifference before but following a recent experience I wanted to explore it a little more.
Let me keep this one very brief: -
- We work very hard to win new clients
- We shower them with our attention
- After they have signed on the dotted line our attention is drawn towards the next target
- Sometimes we spend less and less time on our clients
- Perhaps we don’t listen as much as we used to
- Worse still we do less “little extras” that aren’t really necessary but the client appreciates
- We forget that strong relationships are built on making people feel important, appreciated and understood.
So what happens next? We learn that one of our clients has given a piece of business to one of our competitors. We’re angry and disappointed but we can’t see how this was our fault. Mmmmmm.
My advice is as follows: -
- Examine your client estate and make absolutely sure each and every member is being looked after in a way that will ensure their continued loyalty.
- Step up your game as required.
My family have always been fussy eaters but never more so than when they’re ordering steak. Mrs Ames likes it rare with a dash of French mustard; son #1 likes it rare but has to have a sauce on it; son #2 can’t eat it unless it is medium well done with a heavy sauce; daughter can only have plain steak but it has to be medium and me; the bluer the better.
So what, I hear you cry. Well just imagine an Ames family trip to a steak house and all of us being served identical steaks. Quel horreur! Chances are at least two of us would not be happy campers and so more likely to bad-mouth the restaurant or give the place next door a go next time we fancied some meaty comestibles.
Now consider how you serve your “steaks”. If you provide your offering in the same way to everybody you stand a real chance of letting somebody down; similar to a failed trip to the local steakhouse for the hungry Ames’s.
In fact the way in which a product or service is served up heavily influences which way the game goes: deliver what you sell in a way the client prefers and its one nil to you; the other way around and it’s a draw at best.
So what’s an honest broker like you supposed to do about this? Let’s go back to the restaurant for a second visit. The waiter delivers the menus, tells you about the specials then goes away again giving you time to decide. They don’t hassle you and they don’t try and shoe-horn into taking their choice.
A little later they return to answer any questions and take down every detail of your order; they don’t just write down “5 steaks”. This is the nub of it all really. After you have found out what your clients want press on and discover how they would like it delivered and then make a note of it. That’s why God invented customer relationship management systems!
Typically you should look at these 7 key areas: -
- Communication: how often, the method (face to face, telephone, email) and style (no-nonsense, relaxed, friendly).
- Intervention: do they want you to deliver and clear off or do they want you to continue to be involved after the sale even if it is to see how things are going on?
- Omissions: quite often people don’t want the full offering “I’ll take mine on brown and hold the onions”. BMW charge extra for this; cheeky little Bavarian devils!
- Customisation: moving one on from omissions give your clients some choices. The more bespoke you can make your offering the better it will fit and the more they will rave about it. Think Starbucks here; black coffee if you want it but if you want a customised cup of coffee you’ve gone to the right place.
- Driver or passenger: some people like you to drive the process by giving choices and expressing preferences others like to do it themselves. It is important to get this one right.
- Buying process: understanding what people have to go through in their own organisation when they want to buy something is crucial. You can quite often make the buying process much easier for them (and quicker for you) by understanding what “t’s” need to be crossed and “i’s” dotted.
- Interests: and finally what are they interested in both professionally and personally. The more you know of what they like the more you can tickle their individual fancies. This is probably the most important of all – get it right and your clients become one step away from being your friends after which everything changes.
So here’s the skinny on great customer care: it’s probably a good idea to understand your client’s needs and preferences, make a note of them and then aim to meet them every time you sell them something. Not really rocket science but since most people can’t be arsed to serve up anything other than “medium rare” just making the effort puts you ahead of the game.
Hello client loyalty, big revenues and client referrals; good bye indifference, serious competition and hard times.
Why does anybody swap suppliers? Sometimes it’s because there is a cheaper alternative but mostly it isn’t. Would you swap dentists because a cheaper one set up next door? Unlikely. In reality people keep the status quo and only move on for a reason and in most cases whether they stay or go is up to you.
Here are three of the most popular causes for client departures: -
- “Perceived indifference” - the client thinks you don’t care any more even though you do. They feel neglected and can only look back with wistful fondness to the days when you were courting them and couldn’t do enough for them. They just want to be loved and cared for but sadly you’re just not hitting the spot anymore.
- Poor quality – you simply aren’t delivering the quality they expect for the money they’re paying and because of point 1 above you don’t even know it. Regardless of the product or service you offer great quality is the best form of protection you can get.
- Knock-out deal - one of your competitors has a brain-wave and comes up with a new and innovative product that totally blows your client away. Sometimes this innovation can lower the price but keep the quality; sometimes the price is irrelevant.
So how can you make sure your clients don’t wander off and misbehave with the competition?
- Treat your clients like your friends – contact them often and not always about work, shoot the breeze with them, show you appreciate them rather than just tell them, make them laugh, surprise them, listen to what they have to say, be there for them and take an interest in them as people not just as a source of revenue.
- Never become complacent with your quality - treat complaints as a way to improve and not a nuisance to be side-stepped, genuinely ask people what they think (avoid questionnaires), hunt down poor quality and deal with it at source and never accept “it’ll do” as an answer.
- Make time to innovate – if you’re running at 100 mph you can only just manage to keep on top of your BAU let alone come up with great new innovations. Watch, listen, ask and think before gathering some of your key support team together and asking them “so what does the future look like?” Full heads means full diaries and full diaries mean no head-space for creativity.
Simples innit? Treat your clients as you would treat your friends and never become complacent and your client estate will only grow and, as a nice bonus, you’ll get more client referrals than you know what to do with!
It’s that special time of year again. All the stress of getting things closed down before the Christmas break whilst also attending all those parties, after-work drinkies and catch-up festive lunches. Added to that we have to do some present shopping – it all adds up to one big Yuletide headache but thank goodness we no longer have to worry about Christmas cards eh?
That’s the great news; all we have to do is make sure that everybody we know, sat next to at that boring seminar we went to or anybody who might know us from the dawn of our career is on the mailing list and hey presto! They get a lovely e-mail Christmas greeting with the added bonus (excuse?) that we are giving a donation to charity instead of buying nasty paper cards. Oh, won’t those pine forests sleep easier tonight.
Well actually that isn’t such great news really and here’s why: -
- The people who receive a Christmas message from you will value it in proportion to the amount of time, effort and expense you invested to get it to them.
- E-cards rarely get printed off and displayed anywhere so provided the recipients spam-checker hasn’t intercepted it you will be in their minds for about 90 seconds tops.
- Nobody really believes you are doing this to save the environment or to be charitable – face up to it.
- Getting an e-card is not a personal act. Relationships are built on 1-2-1 contact not 1-2-many (which do have their place by the way).
So what is a body to do? Well if the firm has decided to embark upon an e-card campaign there is little you can do to stop them but there is something you can do to mitigate the effect: -
- List out your top 30 very special clients and contacts (50 would be better).
- Go out this lunchtime and buy each one a decent Christmas card – this could run you a whole £15!
- Write a personal message in each one.
- Put stamps on them rather than swish them through the franking machine.
- Deposit in the post box.
I reckon that should take no more than an hour of your time and in exchange for that you will stand out from all the other lazy beggars who can’t be arsed; will have provided one of the required 27 personal connections for this year and you will also feel just that little bit more Christmassy. Go on now, you know it makes sense!
People with a sensitive nature should NOT read this post – you have been warned!
There is an urban myth that says put a frog in a bowl of hot water and it will immediately jump out but place it in some cold water and then gently heat it up and it will happily boil to death. Not a nice image and I have never tried to prove it either way but is there a lesson to be learnt here?
Here’s my point. Run a little audit of your longer standing clients and: -
- Work out precisely what you do for them and how long it takes
- Calculate what PROFIT (not turnover) you make from them
- Estimate the hassle factor – how much pain, stress and general agro you get from them.