Did you know that humans and chimpanzees have only a 2% difference in DNA. In 2005 the University of Washington in Seattle sequenced the genome of our furry forebear and found him to be more of a sibling than an ancestor.
But that 2% difference accounts for penicillin, the space shuttle, computers, the Eiffel Tower and liquid soap whilst our hapless cousins continue to swing around in trees and throw poop at each other.
It just goes to show a little difference in composition can make a huge difference in production.
Why is this useful then?
Well, when we are trying to set ourselves apart from our competitors and rivals we always imagine we have to be vastly different – we don’t. A little more organised; a little more proactive, a little more creative, attentive, focused, reliable and visible all add up to a very different person to the one that can’t be bothered.
Want to stand out from the crowd? Look for small differences and nail them.
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
The Bryan Hughes Interview
Bryan Hughes is the CEO of Eversheds an international law firm planted well within the top 10 of the UK legal hit parade. He is an affable family man who claims to make a habit of losing golf balls and doesn’t look his 50 years (he tried to convince me he was 14 when he joined Eversheds in 1984) but underneath his pleasant exterior he’s a determined, focused and very switched on lawyer-turned-businessman. Read more about Bryan here.
Now, here’s how Bryan sees the world….
You have ambitious expansion plans – can you sum them up for me?
We have always had a 3 year business plan but during our last round of planning we decided to look further ahead, in fact to 2020 and not just so we could call it our 2020 Vision! Our short term objectives are to consolidate our global organisation by standardising our offerings, filling the gaps and turning our investment sites (they’ll be the ones that make a loss) into profit centres.
Our 2020 vision is about taking this platform and spreading the reach still further. We all know that there is an increasing movement of business from west to east but we still need to establish ourselves in the US so an American move is certainly a real possibility in the future.
What is your response to those who would say now is not a good time to invest?
Well they said that 3 or 4 years ago too but we carried on regardless and have continued to add turnover and profit to the firm. We know that if we invest wisely and stay focused we can steal a lead on those of our competitors who are “waiting for the good times to come back”. We believe in ourselves and our strategy so why wouldn’t we invest in it?
With expansion on the agenda why the recent redundancies?
Nobody likes to have to let people go; it’s always painful but we have realigned our business to reflect the market and the needs of our clients and we needed to staff up accordingly. Very sad but also very necessary I’m afraid.
What are the major challenges you’re facing with this strategy?
Pretty much the same as everybody else I’d say: we live in times where change is the new status quo and we have to keep up so we constantly need to refine our plans to keep ourselves on target. Added to that there is less business about which is being chased by too many lawyers and with new entrants turning up all the time it’s tough out there.
Bottom line: If you can’t give the clients a good reason to choose you they’ll simply go with the cheapest. High quality, great service and value for money are valuable assets that clients want and we just concentrate on making sure we deliver them.
You have a very progressive IT department – how does it add value to the average lawyer in the firm?
This question has two answers. Firstly our lawyers simply want to take IT for granted. They just want it to work 100% of the time wherever they are on the planet and they don’t want to have to think about the enormous amount of work it takes to consistently deliver this. Well why should they?
Secondly we see IT as an enabler; something to give our lawyers an edge in a market place where you need all the edges you can get. Whether it’s enabling a completely mobile working option or allowing people to link their own Smart Phone or tablet to our network our IT team are saying “yes” as opposed to the proverbial sharp intake of breath.
Lawyers are traditionally techno-phobes – how have you got round this?
Well our younger lawyers have been brought up on computers so totally get how important they are and have no hesitation about using them. Some of the more experienced lawyers have also made the leap into the information age with ease whereas others……. (stares wistfully out over St. Pauls)
In short what counts is their ability to provide great legal advice and IT is just one of many tools we use to help us do this quicker and more effectively.
You were the first firm to issue iPads to your lawyers – did this pay off and do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
Yes I think it did on all sorts of levels. Sure there was some PR value to it but it enabled our people to use technology in situations that would be impractical if you had to fire up a laptop. They also improved our ability to communicate and engage with our stakeholders. Added to that the lawyers thought it was “fun-computing” if there is such a thing (I am an IT man so I told him there is – not sure he was convinced).
Moving forward we are working on a ‘Bonfire of the Bureaucracies’ project to reduce the amount of form-filling and unnecessary processes that have built up over the years as well as additional projects to enhance our HR, case management, practice management and CRM systems. We definitely like to get our money’s worth out of our IT department.
Law firms are having to change from passive BD to something that is a lot more proactive – what changes have you made in the way you win and keep clients?
This is an interesting question. To start with we have been running an extensive and very successful Key Account programme for a number of years which has contributed greatly to our growth and profitability. We train our people precisely how to look after clients as well as seek out new ways to help them and engage with them. This has, and still is, giving great results.
We are still winning new clients of course but we have a range of approaches to this including promoting our sectors and relationships with third parties.
Do you think every lawyer should have to do BD?
A perennial question Mike. Look, everybody has a part to play in securing business. It could be the lawyer that does an outstanding job and gets a referral from it or perhaps somebody who is as comfortable in a networking situation as they are in a boardroom. I believe that you should work to people’s strengths and not spend your time trying to make them good at something they inherently find difficult. Having said that each practice has their own business plan and each team member is expected to contribute; the business won’t win itself you know.
I always like to end with a round of quickfire questions so here they are.
Describe Eversheds in 10 words or less.
Relationship-driven; different in a good way; challengers of the norm (did him a favour and hyphenated the first two; Mr Generous).
Are you an ambitious firm?
We’re far too self-effacing for that Mike – we just want to be different and do it our way (yeah, sure like he loses a lot of golf balls too).
Reasons to: -
- Work at Eversheds: strong culture, meritocracy and the sky is your limit.
- Use Eversheds: easy; we’re obsessed with customer service and being aligned to their businesses.
- Competitors should beware: we’d rather they just ignored us really…. Until it’s too late!
During a time when many firms are talking about attacking the market and growing their businesses but not doing much about it Eversheds, under the urbane Mr Hughes, are making it happen and good luck them. Apparently fortune does favour the bold. Learn more about Eversheds here.
This morning I attended the funeral of John Ashcroft originally my driver but later he became a good friend. Please don’t stop reading I’m not going to get all sentimental on you but he did leave a strong legacy we can all share.
As I was sitting in a packed out chapel listening to the excellent eulogy by one of his old clients something became obvious to me: John had an incredibly strong brand without all the usual cost, time and hoo-har involved in building one.
He was a freelance professional driver; a one-man band who did everything from arrange his work, drive his clients around and attend to his finances all the way up to looking interested as we droned on about our own little lives. So how could somebody who did all those things still have time to build a strong, really really strong, brand?
Well truth be told John didn’t care for brands (“and all that jazz”) but what he did care for was: -
- Making sure his clients were always delighted with what he did for them
- Living his favourite quote “the answer’s ‘yes’ now what’s the question”.
- Never letting them down – EVER!
- Always being able to react to the last minute changes his clients subjected him to.
- Always making his clients feel special.
- Always being cheerful, happy to listen and open to anything new (he was a regular Facebooker).
- Never being late and so never needing an excuse.
You see John had no need of a fancy logo or a mission statement or an elevator speech or a strap-line. He just consistently did what it said on the tin: delighted his clients and as he did so his brand took care of itself.
So next time anybody mentions branding to you think of John and think of what he stood for and you’ll know exactly what to do next.
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!
Just in case you’ve never watched any of the Terminator films let me give you a quick rundown. Big computer (Skynet) goes mad, tries to kill off mankind but is thwarted by plucky Americans and/or killer robots sent back from the future. I bet if you haven’t watched the films you’ll be scheduling a trip to Blockbuster on your way home tonight. I certainly hope so.
So what’s the connection with sales? Well our heroes had worked out all they needed to do in order to save the day was destroy this big computer and everything would be all oojar cum spiff but sadly they had a nasty surprise coming their way in the final film of the trilogy: there was no super computer; Skynet was the Internet and was actually made up of millions of small computers dotted around the world. Major bummer when you only have a couple of sticks of dynamite in your pack.
So back to sales then. I find time and time again that leadership teams feel they can solve their business development woes by the equivalent of killing Skynet: strategic reviews and sweeping initiatives. The poor old client-facing types have a grand unveiling of yet another BD initiative followed by the usual dismal drift into obscurity: “one more BD white elephant”. The answer is not doing big things but the exact opposite: taking care of the ground level details.
So what should you do? Well here are the top three components that I believe will help to create a strong foundation on which you can construct your grand business development edifice: -
- Sales meetings: not talking shops and not informal gatherings but rather they are structured, highly controlled and very focused on inching individual prospects closer to a sale and making sure our clients are being cared for consistently.
- CRM: without a widely adopted CRM system you will not be able to manage large numbers of prospects efficiently and neither will you have the necessary management information to run the sales meetings. Oh, and “adopted” means utterly depended upon by the way.
- Pipeline: almost everybody in sales reckons they run a pipeline model but when you look at it the thing actually turns out to be list of companies they’ like to do business with. A real pipeline model is a finely tuned people-focused instrument that enables you to partition your prospects, monitor their conversion into clients and ensure that your time, money and resources are all focused on the targets where the best results are to be gained. A world apart from the traditional “pipeline”.
So the Big Sales Myth has been blown away: there is no BD equivalent of Skynet so best not go chasing around killing people and blowing things up looking for it. The answer to your problems is to spend some time (and NO money) getting some simple things in place.
Hasta lo vista baby!
Despite what anybody tells you tenders are designed to lower costs. They may request all sorts of information from you; encourage you to be creative and innovative and bang on about quality and value but when they open up your response the first page they turn to is the one headed “Costs”.
Since there is always somebody in your peer group who is more desperate than you it means there is always somebody out there who is going to be cheaper than you. Tenders are creating a race to the bottom of the price barrel and that isn’t good for anybody including the client.
So what are your options? Here’s five of the best…….
1. Keep doing the same old, same old.
Einstein’s definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over in the same way and expecting a different outcome each time. This option is not recommended by your local business development specialist.
2. Become a Cost Plus Operator
Instead of plucking hourly rates out of the air why not work out what it actually costs to provide a service including direct (what is the true cost of a partner, say) and indirect costs (overheads and so on). Once you have added your margin to this you can be sure that this is a reasonable price and hopefully will be somewhere in the ball-park.
One side-effect of this approach is that it throws a spotlight on the way in which you deliver your offering. By innovating, using new technology and standardisation you may be able to lower the delivery costs and so lower your bid prices and therefore increase your chances of winning the deal.
Of course this is setting you on a path of providing a commodity based service. Some firms will make a lot of money by doing this. I personally wouldn’t choose to work in that part of the field myself though because it’s not much fun and it also happens to be highly vulnerable to the effects of market fluctuations.
3. Go Niche
People recognise that when they base their decisions on cost they will not actually get the best possible service available. It’s a trade-off they’re willing to make. But some will also recognise that certain types of work do demand extra skills or a more studied approach where the price of under-performance is high perhaps.
When you submit your proposal you point out the value of your offering, admit it is not the cheapest but single out when a more expensive flavour (yours) is the right one. Price it up based on decent rates and position yourself as an escalation supplier: in other words work only comes to you when it needs to and you charge differently to the rest of their suppliers.
If your offering genuinely is much better than the competition and there is a real need to use it under certain circumstances then you could be onto a winner here. Note you could do much less business then the other suppliers but make the same amount of profit!
4. Change the game
Always submit a tender response in the format, style and content that the client requested but include a second option which is disruptive. So they ask for hourly rates which you provide but you also offer to take a risk and do all the work for a fixed price with no if’s, but’s or maybe’s. Game changer; makes them begin to think of things other than comparing one suppliers prices against another’s.
Risky and needs innovation but can work handsomely – worth some thought I’d say.
5. Just not bother
Seriously. If you’re not going to change your business to use a cost-plus model; take risks or have a real niche then my advice is don’t bother responding to tenders. If you take this option there is one thing you have to do: build yourself an active sales environment which systematically generates lots of new leads; has a process to grade the leads and then convert the good ones into clients where you have an outstanding client care programme in place to maximise ongoing revenues.
Qualified volume coupled with effective processes, tools, techniques and control mechanisms when combined properly will provide more of the target clients who base their buying decisions on more than just cost.
Tendering is here to stay and if anything will become even more prevalent and cost-sensitive. The “do nothing” option really isn’t an option so whatever you do do it soon and do it well.
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!
Years ago we were on a family holiday in Menorca at the sort of place that families with a shortage of disposable cash tend to go: cheap and cheerful. One evening we were sitting having a drink whilst the Animation team (mostly Germans and aspiring actresses from England) were entertaining the kids and then I heard those fateful words “OK kids go and get your mum or dad and bring them up here on stage”.
My sons rushed over and dragged me up along with several other hapless and slightly tipsy adults. I can still see the sly smile on the lips of the head honcho as he said “vell done kids you can all seet down now. Get ze costumes guys!” at which point the rest of his merry troupe arrived on stage with various “amusing” costumes. To cut a cringe-worthy story short I ended up dressed as a sugar-plum fairy complete with pink tutu and magic wand doing various dance moves on stage much to the cruel delight of the audience.
Now, you may be wondering, how can this help me engage with my clients? Fair question so let me elucidate. Imagine if the so-called Animation team had stood on stage and said “we now want a number of adults to come on stage so that we can ritually humiliate them for the delight and delectation of the audience”. Not many takers I’d guess so what they used was a decoy, a sort of trick really but it worked.
To do this in sales you use a thing called a Latch key. In short it’s a product or service designed to engage the target in a low risk and low-cost kind of way. Once you have the engagement you can dispense with the Latch Key and focus on moving the sale process forward.
Here are a couple of examples and then I’ll give you a check-list of conditions you can apply to any possible Latch Keys to measure their strength.
- Phone Apps. An easy one to start. Anybody with a smart phone will be used to down-loading a free “lite” version of an app and then being reminded every time that they use it that they can update to the full-fat version for a fee. This approach creates engagement between the user and the product which will often lead to a sale even though they may not have been prepared to buy the app in the first place.
- Methodology. We know a lot about recruitment having been in it for over twenty years and so we also know how the client should organise their internal recruitment capability to make it efficient and highly effective. We brought the two things together into a Latch Key product called Resource Integration. This is an 8 step methodology that will transform the recruitment function of any company to a) be as effective as it is possible to be; b) be entirely bespoke towards the needs of the client and c) be designed to change as the needs of the business change. We offered it on a risk and reward basis and won new clients with it.
The following list describes Latch Key characteristics; the more that apply the stronger it is: -
- They look like a real product or service offering. They have supporting collateral and are present on your website.
- They add real value to your clients. They solve a problem or help to capitalise upon an opportunity.
- You are able to deliver them for free or on a risk or reward basis. Budget restrictions can prevent engagement.
- They are very low-cost for you to provide. You may not charge for them so cheap is good.
- They are unique or uncommon. If everybody provides them they won’t work.
- They are easy to engage with. If it’s a hassle the recipient probably won’t bother.
- There is a tangible result. Something the recipient can touch even if it’s it only a report.
- There should be no risk for the recipient. Just like hassle, risk is the kiss of death for a Latch Key
In my opinion if you’re in sales and you don’t have two or three latch Keys at your disposal you are not only making life a good deal harder than it needs to be, but you also at a distinct disadvantage to your competitor down the road who does have some.
Latch Keys open doors for you in more than one sense of the words!