Monthly Archives: March 2011

Why should we ask our clients what they think of our service?

“We work with them all the time. We already know what they think of us”. This is one of the most common objections we hear from professionals about conducting client feedback exercises. However, when questioned, this perception is often based on assumptions rather than hard evidence.

When you are working regularly with clients, it is easy to believe that you have a good understanding of the relationship, and how the client views the relationship. But unless you ask your clients, you will never know for sure.

I strongly believe independent client feedback exercises are vital if you want to strengthen your relationships with your clients and increase your share of wallet. These should be conducted in addition to CEO/Managing Partner discussions with the client and in addition to fee earner conversations – which are also important discussions to have.

So, why are independent client feedback exercises so important?

Because they give the client the opportunity to speak openly and candidly about what’s important to them, the state of the relationship, their understanding of your business and what they’d like to see from you going forwards. It’s vital that the interviewer is perceived as independent and impartial and that the process is seen by the client as more than simply a ‘marketing exercise’.

Having conducted client reviews/feedback interviews both as an employee of a law firm and independently as a consultant, I’ve found clients have been much more open and honest since I’ve been engaged externally.

So, having established that you need to seek the feedback, you need to have specific goals in mind, in order to ask the right questions. Client reviews not only tell you what’s important to your clients and how you’re performing vis a vis a range of criteria, but they also enable you to benchmark your performance year-on-year and to focus your marketing efforts on those things that will make the biggest difference to your clients.

12 good reasons to conduct client reviews are to uncover:

  1. What is the true state of each of our client relationships?
  2. How well did a particular project/matter go from the client’s perspective?
  3. Why are we only getting a portion of a client’s work?
  4. Why are revenues from this client declining?
  5. How do clients and influencers perceive us? What is our current brand positioning?
  6. How closely are the firm’s brand and one individual’s personal brand linked?
  7. How are our competitors perceived and what does the market say our competitive advantage is?
  8. How can we get into a specific market?
  9. Why are we not winning business in a particular sector?
  10. How can we win work before it goes to tender?
  11. How aware is the market of the range of services we provide?
  12. What are the client’s priorities over the coming year and how can we support them?

Clients, and other stakeholders, like to be asked for feedback. Conducting reviews demonstrates you value your relationship with them.  Provided there is appropriate follow-up, the process will enable you to strengthen your relationships and  build client loyalty.

Do you conduct client (and other stakeholder) feedback exercises? If not, remember others do.

How have client feedback exercises helped your business?

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You’ve been recommended to a prospective client along with others: how can you tip the level playing field in your favour?

Imagine that you’ve been recommended by a client or contact to another prospective client. He/she has also been given the names of two of your competitors. You’ve all received glowing recommendations. It’s a level playing field – so how can you tip it in your favour?

It’s highly likely that, prior to meeting you, the prospective client will conduct a web search so the question you need to ask is: what will he/she find under your name?

Try it yourself and see. While your website profile is likely to be up there, your social media profiles are too – and they may even appear before your website profile. That’s because search engines, like google, rank social media pages highly. It’s therefore vital that your LinkedIn profile (and Twitter and Facebook if you use them for business purposes) is compelling and complete (see our earlier blog post for tips on how to develop a compelling LinkedIn profile).

You want the prospective client to get a sense of:

  • who you help
  • how you help them
  • some of the results you’ve achieved, and
  • who you are as a person

on both your website and social media platforms. If you want to persuade them that you are the right person for the job then you also need to seek to demonstrate your expertise before you’ve even met them.

How can you do that?

By regularly sharing useful and timely content that’s relevant to your target audience(s) and that demonstrates your understanding of your subject area(s) etc.

In order to really tip the level playing field in your favour we recommend you use a variety of online and traditional channels to share the content – both that you have generated and that others have produced – including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, seminars, Podcasts, video, newsalerts, articles etc and that you have an online repository for the  information you share online. While this may be your website, if you find that your website doesn’t easily allow content to be uploaded, or doesn’t enable it to be linked to your bio/profile, you may want to look for alternatives such as a blog.

By ensuring your LinkedIn (and other profiles) are compelling, by regularly sharing relevant, useful and timely content, and ensuring this is easily accessible, you will be able to tip the level playing field in your favour.

If it does come down to an interview then it will be yours to lose. And that’s a much stronger position to be in than the alternative.

So, what will your target audience find if they search your name? Have you won work as a result of a content marketing strategy?

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Is your marketing spend providing a return to your business?

Often clients come to us when they want to ‘do some marketing’. When questioned about what, where and why, the answers are often vague and unsure, but what they do know is that they need to do ‘something’. Marketing budgets are tight so they need to be targeted and add value to your business.

So how do you decide what is right for your business?

Often the easiest marketing activities are also the least valuable. This isn’t to say they don’t cost a lot, just that they may not provide value to your business. Some of the most common ‘high cost / low value’ spend we see includes:

  • Sponsorship of an event or entity
  • Hosting a dinner or drinks evening
  • Advertising in magazine or newspaper

Any and all of these activities may be valid and valuable if they are part of an overall programme which is positioning your organisation in a strategic space. However, all too often the reasons for doing this type of marketing we hear are ‘because we’ve always done it’ or ‘because if we don’t our competition will’ or ‘because the client (or our senior manager / partner) expects it’.

If you are sponsoring a local fishing competition, hosting a wine tasting evening, and running brand advertisements in a daily newspaper, with random and differing targets in mind, you are likely to be getting far less return on your investment than a targeted approach.

However, if you are positioning yourself within an industry sector and, as part of that position you sponsor the annual conference, host a CEO dinner of target companies and clients within the sector, and advertise the value you provide that sector in their industry magazine, then you will be getting greater value from that marketing spend.

Don’t forget, you should always (at least) double the $ value you will have to pay of any sponsorship / event / advertising to get the real cost. For example, if a sponsorship costs $5000 you need $5000 to leverage that sponsorship to any effect.

So when you are reviewing your marketing budgets and looking for the things that ‘must stay’ ensure you are looking for the value, not just the historical or fear-driven reason for the spend.

What marketing activities do you get the most value from? What do you suspect you are doing purely out of habit?

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Can you get business by being on LinkedIn?

No you can’t…not just by being on LinkedIn.

However, you can get business as a result of your activities on LinkedIn. If you regularly engage with your target audience(s), ask questions, promote others, share valuable content, start to build relationships…and then develop these relationships offline, you can generate work.

How do I know? Because I’ve given work to people I’ve never actually met but have engaged with on LinkedIn. This includes:

  • attending a free webinar offered by someone in a LinkedIn group I belong to and then paying for the next installment. The thing is this person didn’t just offer their webinar. They shared some really useful tips and content first. Because I’d been able to read their articles and watch their videos I was able to determine that they knew their stuff. So when they offered the webinar, I really wanted to attend and, when they offered the next step at a cost, I was happy to pay because the free webinar was of real value.

I’ve also had discussions with others on LinkedIn and then continued the discussions offline (in person and via Skype).  All of them have been really impressive (and I suspected they would be because I liked the content they were sharing and their comments on LinkedIn). As a result I’ve recommended some of them to my clients and friends where appropriate and wouldn’t hesitate to put them in touch with anyone needing their particular skill sets.

And I’ve also found opportunities as a result of my LinkedIn activities.

  • I’m a regular contributor to a monthly newsletter which is distributed to around 6500 accountants in Australasia
  • I’m helping to develop a webinar
  • I’ve presented to lawyers and accountants on topics I have commented on, including social media, and I’ve generated work as a result of these.

The opportunities haven’t come about simply by being on LinkedIn, but they have come about as a result of consistently engaging with others, taking the relationships offline and giving away some of my better ideas for free.

How can you make LinkedIn work for you?

  • Be clear about what you want to achieve – have a plan.
  • Use LinkedIn to get the right people into your sales funnel. Qualify them by asking questions about issues you want to assist people with (your network updates and initiating group discussions are great ways to do this). Those who engage with you in these discussions are likely to be interested in the same topics.
  • Find ways to take the relationship offline – such as suggesting a coffee to further discuss an issue if a person is local or setting up a time to talk via phone/skype to find out more about what they do.
  • Be curious – ask questions, and regularly seek others input and opinions.
  • Be authentic – be yourself and be honest.
  • Engage with others consistently – it takes time to build credibility, relationships and trust. And you have to be in it for the long haul…don’t expect things to happen overnight.
  • Focus on how you can help others rather than how they can help you. Share content others produce that may be of value to your contacts, find out more about the other person, what they’re doing, who their ideal client is etc.
  • Integrate your LinkedIn activities with your other marketing and business development initiatives both online and offline.

Like all marketing and business development activity, the more you engage, the more likely you are to see results.

Have you generated business for yourself, or for others, as a result of connecting through Linkedin? Do you have other tips on how to turn the connections into workflows?

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Do you under-promise and over-deliver…or the reverse?

When we interview clients of professional services firms one of the themes that comes through, time and time again, is the need to understand, and manage, each client’s expectations on every piece of work you do for them.

We’ve put together 11 tips below to help you do just that. These are based on things that clients have told us they would like their professional advisers to do:

1. Find out your client’s expectations up front – including what do they want to achieve, what do they need from you, by when, in what format, what’s their budget, how frequently would they like meetings/updates and in what format?

2. Build in contingencies – when you set your timelines, wherever possible you should build in extra time to allow for ‘unforeseen circumstances’. However, if you are unable to deliver to original deadlines you must manage your client’s expectations early – ideally as soon as you become aware of the issue.

3. Provide a quote or cost estimate up front as well as a reverse brief setting out what you understand their needs and your role to be. Set out who their key point(s) of contact will be and who will be working on the file, including contact details.

4. Inform your own team of  the client’s expectations and what you expect from them. This includes other advisers you may be working alongside – agree how you will work as a team for the client’s benefit.

5. When issues arise, inform the client early. Always come to the client with solutions or options if problems have arisen – don’t make the problem solely the client’s issue.

6. If the scope of work changes, or unforeseen issues occur which have cost implications, let the client know early so that, together, you can agree a way forwards.

7. Let the client know of planned absences or dates/times when you will be unavailable well in advance and make sure they know who their point of contact will be in your absence.

8. Always try to deliver work early. However, if you are up against a deadline e.g. if the client wants the work next Wednesday, ensure you deliver it to them by midday on the Wednesday at the latest. Don’t leave it until 5pm as the client won’t realistically be able to do anything with it until the next day. You’d be amazed how many clients have mentioned similar scenarios in client reviews we’ve conducted and how frustrated this makes them feel.

9. Ensure you deliver what the client needs. For example if you’re a lawyer, does your client want an answer, a short opinion or a 20 pager? Deliver your advice in a format the client can use. This will depend on what they will do with your advice – if they need to present it to their Board deliver it as a Board report, if they need to get internal buy-in for something ensure your advice is structured persuasively considering the business and personal needs of those it needs to persuade.

10. Reflect your firm and personal values in everything you do.

11. Conduct face-to-face end of project/matter reviews after all large or strategically important work as well as a certain number for key clients or new clients. You can then keep doing the things that work well and tweak your service wherever necessary.

Do you agree with these? What other tips would you share?

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