One of my colleagues recently tweeted that he got better service buying a sandwich from Pret than spending thousands with a professional services firm. What does it take to win and keep business?
- Focusing on excellence in your sector.
- Listening to your client, and presenting a tailored solution.
- Doing what you said you would.
Let me illustrate using a very practical example.
We are getting our boiler replaced today. I wrote in the past about being irritated by cold calls purporting to offer me discounts and grants, which came to nothing.
We then took a proactive approach and asked friends for recommendations, of which we got three. Your clients will do the same. What the outcome will be depends entirely on how you handle this.
The first person arrived in the time slot agreed, did a quick survey and said he’d email me the quote. Nothing happened for a week so I called the company. Turns out he had my email address wrong. However the quote was promptly sent on, and looked very professional. When I saw the figure for replacing the boiler, I was pleasantly surprised. However, as I read on, I realised there were a whole host of other costs listed, which weren’t optional, and which added nearly 50% to the first amount. Nobody called me to get feedback.
When I called the second company, a message was taken by a rather snippy receptionist, then nothing happened for two weeks. I then got a call from the manager apologising and saying if we were still interested, he’d like to come out. He said he’d be with me between 10am and 10.30am. I called his office at 11.20am to enquire if he was still coming. He did turn up at 11.40am and was very pleasant. I highlighted that we may also want some work done in our bathroom, and he said he’d quote for a new shower too. A week passed and I had to call him for the quote too. It was sent on, but was pretty generic and didn’t mention the shower and wanted 50% payment up front.
The last person when he said he would. He listened to my requirements and concerns. He offered some suggestions on possible solutions but said he’d do an analysis back at this office. When I highlighted that there wasn’t a radiator in one of the rooms, he said he’d quote separately for that. I asked if they did other plumbing work, but he said they’d decided to focus solely on heating, and become experts in that. His quote arrived at the time he promised. It was addressed personally to me and my husband. It restated my requirements, then proposed a comprehensive solution. He confirmed we wouldn’t have to pay until the job was finished, and that if it wasn’t completed in one day, we’d have a meal out on him.
I imagine you can guess which one we went for!
PS The boiler is fitted and working perfectly. If you want the name of a good heating engineer in Edinburgh, let me know.
I wrote some time ago about replacing a family car and the unpleasant experience of dealing with a car salesman. As time has gone on with this car, it has become obvious that this guy was either ignorant of relevant facts, or a liar, or both. I wonder why some salespeople feel they have to do that? Regrettably it’s the image of the ‘typical’ salesperson that many of us bring to mind, and it’s why many of us in professional services feel very uncomfortable about being involved in sales.
Of course, selling a product like a car is very different from selling a service, where there will be an on-going relationship with the client. However, sometimes the same issues can arise. My husband recently had an issue with a pensions adviser who made lots of promises in the sales pitch, which are proving more difficult to access now he is actually trying to pursue their offer.
Luckily there really is a very simple solution for all of us, that doesn’t involve lying, exaggeration or ducking responsibility:
Under-promise and over-deliver.
Clients will be delighted!
I’ve just been visiting a friend in Leeds for a weekend, and I was telling her about a social event I went to recently where I got to know a lot about the other people there. With one man, I found out what his job is, what he enjoys about it, how his company is doing, where he went on holiday last year, where he’s planning to go this year, his views on bringing up teenagers and what he got for Christmas. I’m not joking.
My friend asked what he knows about me, and I can confidently say, probably nothing. I doubt he even asked my name, never mind remember it. Now I like people, and I’m genuinely interested in other people’s lives. But it helps if it’s a bit of a two-way street!
I only see my Leeds friend 2-3 times a year, supplemented by some phone calls. We’re very different in terms of our interests and jobs. But the key thing is that we are interested in each other’s experiences, opinions and advice. Our conversations become energising, occasionally challenging and always engaging.
The point of all this? Well when you’re trying to win business, showing interest in your prospects or existing clients is essential. If you do nothing else, learn to ask questions and listen. They will think you are a great conversationalist. Every so often you will find clients that you really ‘click’ with. The rapport you create will allow them to open up to you, and also be interested in what you have to say. You will have earned the right to offer your experience, opinions and advice.
I took my two teenage girls to my hairdresser recently, and as usual, the price had gone up by about 5% since our last visit. Now I go to one of those trendy salons where one might expect to pay premium prices. However, in over 10 years of going there, my impression is that the price has gone each up time I visit. They are showing no signs of suffering during this downturn.
How do they get away with that? And why do professionals, with their extensive qualifications and experience, feel they can’t?
We regularly ask our clients why they win and lose business. Very often, when it comes to losing business, the reason quoted is price.
Now price will be an element but, even these days, it’s just one factor that is considered. Quite often clients will say you were too expensive because it’s just a bit difficult to give you more constructive feedback.
Why do I keep going back to that salon?
- My regular hairdresser knows me and my girls, knows the peculiarities of our particular set of follicles and can work with them.
- She is aware of how much time we are likely to spend looking after the haircut and therefore whether to make them high maintenance or not.
- She shows an interest in our worlds beyond the time we spend in front of the mirror.
- She has earned the right to gently tell us if our ambitions for our hair are unrealistic.
In short, we have a long-term relationship and I trust her to listen to what we want and to make appropriate suggestions.
So what can we learn?
- In professional services, we are usually entering into a relationship with a client that involves sharing confidential information, and sometimes they are feeling vulnerable at the time. It is the relationship with the adviser that can make the difference.
- It takes time and genuine interest in your client to build up an understanding of their world and what is most important to them.
- Once you’ve built trust, you can offer guidance and advice that might help clients avoid costly mistakes. (If you’ve ever come across a woman with a disastrous haircut, you’ll know that it can be a deeply traumatic event!)
- If you take time to build up good, trusting relationships with clients, based on their needs, the money you charge will be a much smaller part of a purchasing decision.
So, have pride in your knowledge and experience and recognise the value you can add to your clients when you take a genuine interest in them. They’ll pay for it.
I had to smile last week when I visited a craft shop in rural Scotland. The front door had three signs on it:
NO PUSHCHAIRS OR TROLLEYS.
NO MUDDY BOOTS.
NO FOOD OR DRINK ALLOWED.
Now the shop was rather cramped, and full of nice, crafty things. However, given that these sort of places tend to attract tourists (carrying an ice-cream?), mothers with children and older ladies looking for gifts, even on wet and muddy days, they’d already made it clear that those type of customers weren’t welcome.
As I went in, I heard a boy of about 10 ask his mother, “But why can’t we go upstairs?”. His tone indicated a mixture of curiosity (what exciting things could be upstairs?) and apprehension, (what was it about being a child that was so bad?).
The mother was shaking her head and rolling her eyes. Then I saw why. Above the stairs ahead was a sign saying:
Strictly NO CHILDREN at any time!
Wow! Not only do they not like their current customer base, but they are going to make sure the next generation is really put off as well.
To be fair though, I had plenty of time to choose a scarf because I’d forgotten mine that day. It was nice and quiet, once I was brave enough to ignore the sign that said ‘ONLY TRY ON IF YOU ARE SERIOUSLY CONSIDERING BUYING’.
I was at a large networking event last week where everyone had a chance to talk about their business for a minute. Now I know a lot of people find that horribly contrived and rather like speed-dating, but I think it’s quite a good idea, because you get an understanding of who is in the room, even if you haven’t had a chance to speak to them yet.
Networking events are meetings with a purpose. All business meetings are, from interviews to team meetings, shareholder events and 5 minutes with your manager. They can be done in a very formal way, or with a more friendly and informal tone. But you are not there to pass the time of day.
A minute isn’t long, but in that time, people listening can get an understanding of both your business and you, depending on how it’s done.
What often happens is people reel off a long list of stats about their company and services. I sometimes visualise them as walking brochures – a bit generic and not really telling me too much about how they might help me.
Let me give you an example:
“The PACE Partners has been in business for 20 years now. Our head office is in Walton-on-Thames, and we have 10 full-time consultants. We do business development consultancy and provide workshops and coaching..”
Are you bored yet? I am. Does this tell you anything about how we might benefit you and your organisation? Thought not. How about this?
“The PACE Partners is a business development consultancy focusing on professional services. People like lawyers, accountants and consulting engineers probably didn’t go into their professions with selling in mind, but have reached a stage where this has become part of their responsibilities. We share proven, practical strategies to help them retain key clients and win new business from the right clients at a profitable fee-level.”
Hopefully this gives you more of a flavour of what we do, who we do it with and what the results might be. So the ‘formula’ if you like, for that minute’s introduction is:
- What you do in the broadest sense, and who you do it for (as focused as possible).
- The typical issues these type of people might have.
- What they get from working with you.
So next time you’re at a networking event, or someone just asks you what you do, you can give them short, snappy information that motivates them to want to hear more.
When you offer your clients a tea or coffee at the start of meetings, do you notice the myriad choices that people make?
I find making cups of tea rather stressful. Nobody in my household drinks tea, so when I’m making it for other people I only have what my mum drinks as a guide. She drinks it black and very strong. When I ask visitors how they like their tea, I get things like, “just show the teabag to the water” or “just average, with a splodge of milk”. Or “builder’s tea please.” What do these things mean? And this confusion is just over a cup of tea.
Never mind tea – do you take time to understand how your clients like all sorts of other things? Things like the type and frequency of communication they want, whether they like headlines or details, whether they want to meet frequently or not? Never treat your clients like they’re all the same, and certainly don’t treat them like you want to be treated yourself. It’s how they want to be treated that matters.
The madness of the Edinburgh Fringe is drawing to a close again. It’s been fun, and I’ve been watching all the acts or marketers handing out fliers for their shows with a different perspective. They are just trying to sell themselves, and you can tell that most of them hate it.
The best yet was when my daughters and I were waiting to go into a show and a woman came to give me the flier for it. I said we were booked to go, and she said, “well have this anyway” then ran away. She’d done her bit!
I can empathise. Before I knew PACE, I was a technical expert. I hated what I saw as pushing myself on anyone. They knew where to find me after all. I came to realise, a bit like promoting yourself at the Edinburgh Fringe, that clients aren’t sitting there dreaming up ways to use your services. You have to promote yourself to them in a way that makes what you offer seem meaningful to them.
Interestingly, both times when I went off to get drinks that afternoon, I came back to find my teenage daughters being chatted to by some guys, sitting beside them, who’d clearly spotted an opportunity to take a more personal approach. Good on them I suppose. I hovered until they got out of my seat. I didn’t get chatted up by anyone, as my daughters gleefully noted!
In a work situation, I came to realise that it’s best to build a relationship with your potential clients before you try to offer solutions. Do it the other way round, and you’re just dropping a flier and running.
A company was apparently instructed to replace some cabling by our energy supplier. I was reassured by the messages given by the company while I was holding to speak to someone. Things like, “because we have offices in x, y and z, we are best placed to..”, and “we strive for continuous improvement” and, of course “we take responsibility for customer satisfaction”. I forgave the fact that their staff were rather blunt when I got through.
Someone came round and told me what would be done and where the hole would be dug so I duly arranged an appointment. I was told the hole could be dug without me being in, but it turned out the hole had to be dug in an entirely different place – under my car parked in the driveway.
I got a message saying I was to call to arrange another appointment but at 8.15am in the morning, the digging crew turned up and said the job was on for that day. I was slightly questioning but they seemed to know what they were talking about, so the hole was dug. Nothing else happened. I thought perhaps I’d call just to chase things up, and after two tries, got through to someone who told me the job had been cancelled and that I should have called to rearrange. “Then why did they dig the hole?” I felt obliged to ask. “Oh – did they?” he said. “Yes,” I replied, “and it’s rather big.”
After half an hour or so he called back to say he’d arranged overtime to get my job done. Since I’m not an electrician I couldn’t really question what they were doing, but it didn’t look like what was promised. I was then told I’d have to pay for an electrician to come and wire up the changes. “But it said, quite clearly on my letter, that this work is free of charge.” I exclaimed. “Not all of it” Was the reply.
After a few more calls, I have been promised call backs that haven’t happened, been given a highly technical explanation of the work that had been done and told that the drive would be reinstated today. I was assured of this the following day as well.
Reflecting on this, I find the most disappointing thing is the gushing self-promotion going on in their telephone system and website. Sadly it seems that that the people and organisations who spend most time doing self-promotion very often spectacularly fail to live up to their own hype. If they have to state their values so explicitly, it makes me wonder who they’re trying to convince.
Ultimately it’s clients who decide if you deliver satisfaction. It’s what you do that displays your values. In the meantime, I’m thinking of having a water feature in the driveway. What’s the latest must have fountain?
PS 5 days later and the hole is still there.. It’s now a swimming pool because of our Scottish summer weather..
PPS Hurray. The hole is now filled in, and I have to say, you’d never know it had been there, even in a monoblocked driveway.
I got a nice surprise yesterday when I ordered a coffee from one of the big coffee chains. It was free! They had a deal on where the particular coffee I wanted was free until noon. I had no idea that this was the case, and it put a smile on my face as I walked out.
At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve been to one cafe twice because it’s near where I get my dog groomed. Each time I feel like an inconvenience to the staff. Last time I ordered a latte and a scone. While I was momentarily distracted by my magazine, the waitress appeared and put down my scone, and a cup and bowl of sugar, before marching off. She came back, and slapped down a teapot. “Oh,” I said, “Sorry – I ordered a coffee.” She looked at me like I was the most contemptible person on earth. “You said a black tea and a scone.” “Ahh,” I replied, “Sorry – I said latte. I don’t drink tea.” She pursed her lips, whisked the pot and cup off my table and stalked off. When she came back with the coffee, she slapped that down as well without looking at me, without saying anything and making it clear with every action that I was the biggest inconvenience to her day. Meanwhile I was left wondering why I was apologising for her mistake.
Wonder where I’ll go back to..