I was chatting to a solicitor friend who has recently left a traditional firm and set up on her own. She did this because she felt inhibited by the bureaucracy and lack of energy in the firm, and she is now enjoying being able to give her clients really proactive and personal service. In particular, she noted she had been waiting for a response for three weeks from her old firm, even though this was a client matter. We chatted about why this might happen, and really couldn’t come up with anything positive. Was it disorganisation? Arrogance?
It got me thinking about my experience of professional service firms as both a client and supplier. In PACE, we practise what we preach, and regularly stay in touch with both clients and prospects, sending items of value. While this is a completely unscientific analysis, I have to say that those people who regularly acknowledge these articles, seem to me to be the ones who really understand client care and business development. My solicitor friend used to be one of them, before she left her firm. Now I accept that acknowledging articles sent by PACE is not going to be top of busy professionals to-do lists. However, most of those that do respond are highly successful individuals. If they take time to send a quick line to me, I’m confident they are more likely to treat the most important people – their clients and prospects – with the same level of responsiveness and courtesy.
It is still true that people buy people. We all moan about those huge, faceless organisations that we sometimes have to deal with, where no-one takes responsibility for client care. It’s easy to make sure yours isn’t one of them. Just send a quick line with an update, or pick up the phone. Every touch-point with a firm leaves an impression.
I have just started working with a new client which I’m really enjoying. It serves as a good reminder that it is so much better to work with clients you like working with. All sorts of positive things happen as a result: you are more motivated to do a great job; you actually do a better job than you might for other clients; it’s enjoyable and the client enjoys it too; it helps to build a stronger relationship with them and increases the likelihood of future work.
This new client actually came from a referral – someone now there had used PACE before and brought us back in again to work in their new company. So to some extent it’s serendipity.
Conversely, I was talking to someone the other day who was working with a client they really didn’t like. They were difficult, demanding, sometimes rude and prone to give them work which doesn’t interest them. That was also a referral from another client, so it would have been difficult to say ‘no’.
But if I could picture what my ideal client would look like, what would I see and how could I make sure that the picture became a reality?
In building a profile there are a number of areas to think about, for instance:
- How big they would be
- What geography(ies) they operate in
- How they might be organised and what departments would they need to have to make them a good prospect
- What kind of work or projects they would give you (that will motivate you to want to work with them)
- What their culture and approach would be
There are also some fundamental questions to answer at a firm level. To what extent is the firm willing to ‘prune’, either now or in the future, existing clients who do not fit your ideal future clients? If you’re not, are you then willing to accept that some staff will be de-motivated by continuing to work with them? But if you are happy to prune, what plans do you have in place to make sure that any gaps in work are filled?
In any relationship, it’s good to talk isn’t it? In fact, none of us would ever get into any relationship of any sort if we didn’t. At the start, we talk a lot. Hopefully we listen too. We are keen to please – to look for confirmation that the other party wants this relationship to progress.
But what happens once we’ve established it? I emailed my husband of 21 years to ask him. Only joking! I left him a note.
But seriously, we often ask our clients how they get feedback from their clients. Now of course, many are very sophisticated at doing this. However many admit that it’s much more ad-hoc. “The client partner chats to them”, or “we send out a questionnaire once a year”.
The opposite extreme of this is those irritating emails we all get asking for our feedback on each and every interaction we have with some call centre or other. There has to be a sensible middle ground.
The best option is personal contact with clients, before, during and at the end of individual projects, and more importantly, even when there isn’t a project. At its most simple, the questions should be:
“What did we do well?”
“What do we need to get better at?”
“What’s happening in your world?”
We want to do more of the first, and address the second. Sometimes it’s the little irritants that can drive clients away. We need to make it easy for them to give us feedback.
Secondly, we really can’t wait a year for this. We live in an age of almost instant feedback in many areas – Facebook, Twitter, TV voting, computer games etc. Also, customer expectations are far more sophisticated now, and however we do it, we need to offer our clients the chance to talk to us. If we don’t, someone else may court them and a new honeymoon will begin. What can you do to rekindle the love in your client relationships?
It can be challenging creating a consistent business development “language” and process throughout a firm. This can be for all sorts of reasons: existing culture is not BD focused or is, but only in pockets; mergers which mean you are integrating two or more different approaches to BD; professionals who prefer to work on their own, or teams who work in a silo apart from others; professionals who just get on with BD and don’t ask for much support. For firms that do achieve consistency, however, the benefits are very clear. read more
If you’ve not made any ‘mistakes‘ in business development, you’re not doing enough of it. I put ‘mistakes’ in quotations, because really, there aren’t too many awful things you can do.
I’ve had to learn how to do business development on top of my technical expertise, and like many professionals I’ve spoken to, I initially found it vague and frustrating. An accountant friend of mine summed it up by noting that she likes a right answer to anything she’s working on. Well, there aren’t really right answers in sales and marketing – more like a focused intention. Within that, there are some best practice guidelines, but no absolutes. If you wait for absolutes, you’ll fall into the only real mistake – doing nothing. Most of us are going to have to bring in business as part of our careers if we want to reach more senior levels. If you start building it into your daily, weekly and monthly efforts, it will become much easier.
As for ‘mistakes’, I’ve probably made them all, but strangely, these mistakes often lead to clients. I’ve sent emails to the wrong person, forgotten who I’m calling between dialling a number and the call being answered, mentioned competitors name instead of the client’s, sent duplicate articles, been late for a meeting and failed to recognise someone at a networking event I’d met two days before. Basically, I’m human. In every case, I have apologised, rectified my mistake if I could and quite often, actually deepened the relationship by being vulnerable and having a bit of a laugh. I don’t think I’ve landed a client without having some hiccup along the way.
Remember our clients and potential clients are first and foremost human beings. They will have their own pressures, insecurities, ambitions and frailties. If you want to work with them in the future, you have to make yourself known to them somehow, then prove to them that you are someone they could work with.
If ever there was a set of questions that professionals fail to ask it is the ‘Commercial’ questions. How do we know this? On hundreds of seminars professionals tell us this is so. These same people also give us anecdote after anecdote detailing the opportunities and clients they failed to win by failing to explore these issues.
There are five commercial areas to explore. They are:
1 The Basis of Decision (BOD)
2 The Money or Budgetary Issues.
3 The Competitive Situation
4 The Timescales
5 The Decision Making Process (DMP)
Why do people avoid these issues? The most common reason we have been given is that people feel awkward in raising these questions. There is a fear that raising these questions could be seen as being “unprofessional” or pushy. read more
As many of you have been experiencing over the last year or two, there are a lot of mergers going on! In the legal field especially, but also in other professional services and in the wider business world. Whatever the strategic reasons for them, there are some immediate things which the marketing and BD teams can help with. I am not, here, going to include the ‘people’ side of things. This is not to underestimate it; there are all sorts of challenges here to resolve. It is a big topic though, so my thoughts here will concentrate on some of the operational and strategic priorities, on a few of which the success and benefits of a merger can depend. From my experience of three mergers: read more
I remember hearing this years ago on a training course, and it stuck with me as a truism. Now that I’m involved in business development, it strikes me as being even more relevant.
Last night I went to a networking event which happened to be debating the case for Scottish independence, and I took my 17 year old daughter along. Of course the content of the debate was interesting, but really I wanted her to start to experience how business people communicate. read more
“Doing business without doing marketing and sales is like winking at someone in the dark. You know you’re doing it, but no-one else does.”
It can be frustrating, can’t it, to find you’ve spent years studying for professional qualifications, then providing expert advice, only to be told that now you need to do sales.
We have asked lots of professionals over the years what they think of selling. There are some who love it but in the main they find it, at best, intimidating or, at worst, rather grubby and beneath them. This is often because selling is associated with lack of substance, manipulation or the need to be an outgoing, ‘patter merchant’. However, selling need never be like that in the professional services world. In fact, behaving like what we might regard as a ‘typical’ salesperson is likely to be counter-productive in a world where we typically want to build trust-based, long-term relationships with our clients. Our experience at PACE tells us that building business is less about ‘selling’ to others and more about motivating others to buy. read more