Tag Archives: client loyalty

Professional Services Marketing: How the Internet Has Stolen Your New Business – And What To Do About It

by Kirsten Hodgson

 

A guest post by Gihan Perera, an Internet coach for thought leaders, consultants and other business professionals on why it's so important for lawyers, accountants and other professionals to establish their authority online: 

The Internet has changed the entire buying process – and it affects you, even if you don’t sell anything on-line. Barry Trailer and Jim Dickie, writing in the Harvard Business Review in 2006, put it this way:

“Buyers have always had a buy cycle, starting at the point they perceive a need. Sellers have always had a sales cycle, starting at the point they spot a prospect. It used to be that these were in sync … [but] now, the buy cycle is often well under way before the seller is even aware there is a cycle.” [emphasis added]

Customers still need to deal with businesses, but now they do it differently.

In the past, when they wanted to buy something important – whether it was insurance, real estate, legal advice or their next car – they would start by talking to a professional, preferably somebody they already knew, liked and trusted. This adviser would then take them on a journey, guiding them to the right buying decision.

That’s no longer the case. If you’re an adviser, you might want people to turn to you first, but they don’t. Instead, they first ask Google. And then perhaps they will ask their Facebook and LinkedIn friends. Or send a tweet to their followers. Or be guided by an e-mail newsletter or blog they read recently. At the end of this process, they might still choose to talk to you, but now the interaction is very different. Information is power, and the customer now has all the power.

Of course, some of your long-term clients do still call you first. But many don’t. That’s why you have to be there consistently in their minds, so that when they’re ready to take action, you’re the first person they call.

That’s easier said than done, because you don’t know exactly when the buying process started (exactly the point that Trailer and Dickie made in the extract I quoted earlier). So the only way to be there is to always be there.

Give Value, Get Business

One of my favourite actors, Steve Martin, when asked for his secret to success, put it this way:

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

That’s the approach to take in your marketing, and it all starts with your expertise. The more you can position yourself as an expert (and even better, as the expert), the greater the leverage you have in your business.

You must do this, because if you don’t, somebody else will! This is not something you can ignore. Even if you already have a stable of existing clients, you need to generate new business. And even those loyal clients might be tempted to look elsewhere.

So how can you do this without giving away the farm or spending every waking moment on-line?

The Secret is Consistency

I spent a month in Auckland in 2010, and one of the simple pleasures during my stay was buying from “The White Lady”, a mobile hamburger stand that parked itself every night on a street corner near my apartment:

The White Lady is an Auckland icon, which has been in operation since 1948. Its most impressive feature is not its longevity, but its consistency. When I said it’s been there every night, I really do mean every night. It has a proud history of being open every night for decades, except for a few weeks in 1998 when Auckland suffered a major power outage.

Make consistency your goal as well. Success on-line is not an event; it’s a process.

Here’s a sample process you can use to consistently deliver high-quality material that establishes your authority:

1.       At the start of each month, find a topic of interest to your clients and prospective clients, and write a 300-500 word article on that topic.

2.       Post it to your Web site and blog at the start of the month.

3.       A week later, send it to your newsletter subscribers.

4.       A week later, post it to your Twitter feed as well.

5.       A week later, post it to your LinkedIn account.

6.       Repeat this process each month!

If you follow this process diligently, you’ll be taking the first steps to building your authority and reputation on-line with a blog, newsletter, Twitter and LinkedIn. As a result, you’ll be increasing the chance that you’ll be the first port of call when somebody is ready to take action.

Remember: Be so good they can’t ignore you!

Gihan Perera is an Internet coach for thought leaders, consultants and other business professionals. He's the author of "Fast, Flat and Free: How the Internet Has Changed Your Business". Visit http://GihanPerera.com and get free e-books, webinars and more.

What's your view? 

What other tips would you share? 

8 sure-fire ways for professionals to lose clients: Part 2

by Kirsten Hodgson

This is the second in my three-part series about the 8 most common client service mistakes lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals make and how to avoid these.

Last week's post dealt with the first two. This week we look at another three typical, and costly, mistakes. 

Number 3.     Hiding behind written communications

It’s often tempting to draft a news-alert or letter to clients about issues that might affect their business but by doing this you may well be missing out on great opportunities. How much more valuable would it be to your clients if you called them about the issue, briefly set out what it might mean for them, and organised to come in and talk to them about it in more detail? You could then follow up with your written summary.

I talk to clients of professional services firms time and time again who tell me that their advisers missed out on an opportunity because they sent a generic written summary about an issue that could potentially affect the client’s business AFTER their competitors had done so. Because a number of firms are adopting the same approach, it literally comes down to who can get the summary out quickest. The clients say that, had they received a phone call and a more personalized approach, the adviser would have secured the work arising from this.

Number 4.     Focusing on yourself rather than on the client

When times are quiet, attention does turn to business development. However, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to focus on your needs rather than those of your clients. The best way to ensure success is to find out about your clients’ businesses, ask them about their upcoming opportunities and challenges, find out what their current frustrations are and think about whether there are any opportunities for you and your colleagues arising from this.

Once you've done so you can offer a workshop, give some free advice (that then leads to paid work) or send your client something (such as a checklist, article or referral) that could help them. You may want to think about who else in your network your client might like to meet and provide an introduction either in person, or via LinkedIn.

Number 5.     Lack of meeting preparation / outcome identification

Given that the majority of people don’t want to fail, it’s amazing how many treat meetings with existing clients as something they can ‘wing’. Before any client meeting you need to identify the purpose and what you want to achieve as a result.

I’d recommend preparing at least three questions you would like to ask the client during the meeting and that you define your target post-meeting ‘next action step’ (e.g. set up a follow up meeting by X date, or introduce them to your colleague by X date).

The key thing is to leave each meeting with a concrete action step that’s time-bound.

I'll post the final part next week.

What's your view? 

What other common mistakes do you see professionals making when dealing with their existing clients? 

 

8 sure-fire ways for professionals to lose clients: Part 1

by Kirsten Hodgson

This is the first in a three-part series of posts looking at how lawyers, accountants, engineers and other professionals can protect and strengthen their existing client relationships by avoiding 8 common mistakes.  This post deals with the first two. 

Number 1. Lack of client interaction beyond the day-to-day

The only way you can possibly understand what’s important to your clients, how you’re performing for them, and what they’d like to see from you going forwards is to ask them. Yet many organisations either assume they know or are apprehensive about what their clients might say if asked.

One of the most valuable things you can do, in the current environment, is to conduct regular face to face relationship reviews with your clients and business partners. These should be conducted at least annually with your major clients and should then be supported by end-of-matter reviews and semi-regular catch-ups to discuss potential opportunities.

 If you’re not doing this, you can be sure that your competitors are: and they’ll be the ones who’ll benefit as they will be able to focus their efforts and their money on those things that will make the biggest difference to your clients.  This could lead to you losing work to your competitors in the medium to long term.

 There is no downside to conducting reviews, provided you have the capacity to act on the feedback and that you do so (and let your clients know what you have done). All our clients experience a greater understanding of their relationships by engaging in this process, and some of our clients reap huge rewards. By conducting relationship reviews for one of our clients, we identified six concrete opportunities that our client didn’t know about, helped them to save one major relationship, and to generate $250K in new business from a further two clients alone.

Number 2.     Over-servicing/under-servicing

One of the most common complaints we hear from our clients’ customers is that they are either being over- or under-serviced. Either they are being bombarded with information, phone calls and personal visits or they’re not hearing from their advisers/suppliers enough. The problem is compounded by the fact that what one client sees as over-servicing, another will see as under-servicing.

The only way to ensure you provide your clients with the right level of service is to understand their expectations and how they like to be communicated with and then to tailor your approach to each client accordingly. For example, some clients will want to receive email updates, while others would rather you picked up the phone or posted these on Twitter or LinkedIn; some will want you to keep in contact between work, others won't unless you are contacting them about something that might impact them/their business. Even when you're doing work for clients they will have different expectations about what they want from you, how they expect you to communicate with them and the frequency. You need to know what these are, otherwise you're setting yourself up for a fall. 

I'll post the next two mistakes professionals make next week. 

What's your view? 

What are the biggest mistakes you see professionals making with regard to their existing client relationships? 

 

 

 

 

 

What professional services firms can learn about creating a client experience from the RWC2011

One of the really neat things that's happened in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup is that each suburb has adopted an overseas team in order to make them feel welcome. Shop fronts bear their flags and some kids dress in their colours. It's designed to make visitors feel welcome. While I've heard a few people criticize it (because we should just be supporting the All Blacks) I think it does reflect the genuine Kiwi spirit. I first travelled to New Zealand in 2000 and was blown away by how friendly people were (not the stilted 'I have to be friendly or I'll lose my job' kind of approach you see in some countries but a real warmth that ,I believe, defines New Zealanders). 

Initial teething issues with public transport aside, I think those who have come to support their teams will go away with a genuine, positive kiwi experience. 

What's this got to do with professional services marketing? 

I recently attended the APSMA conference in Sydney and one of the themes that came through the majority of presentations is that professionals and their firms will need to offer their clients a 'customised experience'. We've seen FMCG's do it for years with their 'be in to win this amazing experience' competitions, but how can professionals and professional services firms create a consistent client experience that defines them and/or their firm? 

Here are 6 ideas: 

  1. Leverage your network for the benefit of your clients. You might want to introduce clients to others who it would be useful for them to meet, or to organise a thought leadership roundtable on a particular issue. 
  2. Provide a consistent service – do what you say you are going to, when you say you will. If you can't meet a deadline or other things crop up that will affect what you have said, let the client know early. Manage their expectations. 
  3. Think about what you can do for your clients that they would really value. This will be different for every client but may involve providing them with an office they can use when they are in town, providing a secondee, offering a free clinic where they can come to discuss issues, or providing webinars/seminars on topical issues – the list is endless. 
  4. Look for ways to make the client's life easier and to put them in control. This may include going to their office or home rather than expecting them to come to you, or giving them access to online deal-rooms, and other resources they may find useful. 
  5. Consider offering a guarantee or some other incentive that demonstrates you have some skin in the game. For example, if you tightly scope work you may be able to guarantee that, if the client is not 100% satisfied they only pay what they think your advice is worth. I know a lot of people are reticent to give price-related guarantees but brainstorm whether there is a non-price related guarantee you can provide that would resonate with your clients and would work for you and your firm. For example, a copywriter I know gives a thumbs up guarantee that states that if a client isn't happy with the copy she writes, she will redraft it until they are. 
  6. Build a community around an issue of interest to your clients. For example, if you work in the resource management field you could look at developing a community around future Emissions Trading Scheme issues. 

I think there's a huge opportunity, beyond traditional CRM, for professionals and firms to create valuable client experiences, both on and off-line. What do you think? 

What good examples of experiences have you seen professional services firms offering? 

What other ideas do you have to create customised experiences for clients? 

Client feedback/listening exercises – tips for overcoming the 6 most common objections

 

One of the hardest things about initiating a client feedback/listening process within a professional services firm is getting buy-in from the lawyers, accountants or engineers themselves. 

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard the following objections, I’d be a rich woman. Seeking client feedback about your performance is scary (and I know because I’ve done it in my business) and it’s only natural to object. However, over the past 8 years conducting literally thousands of reviews, only five people have said they don’t want to participate (that’s less than 1% of those asked). The fact is clients want to be heard. Reviews are about uncovering the good stuff as well as the not so good in order to leverage the positives and deal with the weaknesses.

I thought it would be good to set out 6 of the more common objections I've heard and some tips to overcome these: 

“We already know what our clients think about us” – the real objection is usually “I’m petrified about what they might say about me”. Mark Maraia suggests a great way to overcome this in his ‘Rainmaking made Simple’ book: Firstly find out whether the person does know what his/her clients think by asking them for the supporting evidence. If their statement turns out to be speculation and their real objection is fear then ask whether that partner’s clients are seeking customer feedback and whether they find that feedback useful. Get the partner to call one of his/her clients to ask and then follow up to find out what the client said to him/her. Use this information to build your case.

“I don’t want you to do this with my clients” – interview other clients of the firm first and then show the person how this feedback has helped other people in the firm. They soon come round especially when others tell them how useful the process is.

“My client is too busy. I don’t want to bother him/her/them” – ask when they are likely to be less busy and encourage the person to call their contact(s) to see if they would be happy to be interviewed in principle and, if so, when a good time might be.

“We don’t need to seek feedback as we’ve always had this client’s work and we’ll keep getting it” – explain that the review process in this instance is about understanding why this relationship is so strong, so that the firm can apply the learnings to other client relationships.

“This client relationship is too new” – explain that now is a good time to set the scene. If you seek feedback early then you can ensure you are servicing the client effectively right from the outset.

“This client only wants to deal with me” – explain that this process is about supporting the person in their role. Encourage them to ask the client if they would be happy to participate in the process with the understanding that if they say ‘no’, that’s fine.

A good technique to overcome typical objections is to tell war-stories. For example, I once conducted a client review for a law firm who thought their relationship with a particular client was great. When I spoke to the client they were in the process of moving their business elsewhere because they felt the firm I was working for wasn’t responsive enough, wasn’t putting their best team on the account, and didn’t care about them. The firm I was working for had no idea! By asking the right questions and going back to the client within a week of the review with a programme of what we had done and were in the process of putting in place to rectify the situation, we were able to save the client and over $2 million in fees. 

What other objections do you regularly hear? What are your top tips for overcoming these? 

What has worked well and, conversely, what's worked less well when conducting client listening/feedback initiatives within your firm? 

10 keys of successful delegation to enhance client service

Introducing our first guest post by Greg De Simone, a certified business coach at FocalPoint Coaching on the 10 keys of successful delegation. I love the way Greg’s points tie so nicely into improving the customer experience…

I recently read a post from a Kirsten Hodgson, a LinkedIn connection and a marketing specialist for professional service firms, titled, “Eight Questions Every Professional Should Ask When Taking New Work Instructions.”   The pervasive thought that came through was that establishing expectations with clarity was mission critical when bringing on new clients.  I couldn’t agree more.   Cleary defined expectations agreed upon at the outset of an engagement or on-going relationship are essential if client retention is one of your key metrics.

Here are the eight questions Kirsten posed:

  1. What outcome are you looking to achieve?
  2. How important is this work to you/your organisation?
  3. What’s your deadline for this work?
  4. What are you looking for from us? All the options or our recommendation?
  5. What’s your budget for this work?
  6. Do you need to present the advice to anyone internally?
  7. Will you be our key contact on this matter?
  8. How frequently would you like progress updates and what format would you like us to communicate these in (e.g. face-to-face, phone, email)?

It also struck me how similar the fundamental concepts in those questions were compared to a delegation workshop I routinely deliver titled,  “The 2nd Most Powerful Time Management Tool – delegation for the business professional.”  The workshop summarizes the ten keys of delegation that I, as a Brian Tracy certified FocalPoint business coach, use to help improve my clients’ productivity and profitability.

Here’s a brief summary of the 10 keys to delegation:

  1. Focus on your high value activities
  2. Do what you do best….. delegate the rest
  3. Delegate based on demonstrated competence
  4. Define task clearly
  5. Set a deadline
  6. Establish milestones
  7. Agree on resources
  8. Agree on consequences
  9. Put it in writing
  10. Inspect what you inspect

Notice how clarity and expectation setting are woven into most of the key items.   So, just as we want our relationships with our clients clearly defined with mutually agreed upon expectations, so do our employees when we delegate tasks, activities and projects.    By following these steps (both Kirsten’s and mine) any professional practice can improve the performance of their staff which in turn will lead to improved client service.

What other things do you think are critical when delegating work/tasks? 

Are there any other tips you’d add to Greg’s list? 

Eight questions every professional should ask when taking new work instructions

When talking to clients of professional services firms, one of the most common issues they raise is that their providers don’t always deliver what it is they are expecting. It’s very easy to listen to a client’s brief, assume you understand their requirements, and to go off and do the work but I strongly believe that, in order to avoid misunderstandings (and often huge frustrations on both sides) professionals need to ask questions to clarify their client’s needs at the outset.
While you should never ask anything that you could find out from the client’s website or other publicly available information, the questions below will go a long way to avoiding mismatched expectations:
  1. What outcome are you looking to achieve?
  2. How important is this work to you/your organisation?
  3. What’s your deadline for this work?
  4. What are you looking for from us? All the options or our recommendation?
  5. What’s your budget for this work?
  6. Do you need to present the advice to anyone internally?
  7. Will you be our key contact on this matter?
  8. How frequently would you like progress updates and what format would you like us to communicate these in (e.g. face-to-face, phone, email)?
What other questions do you think professionals should ask their clients when taking new instructions? 
Do you have any examples of how doing this has helped your business? 

Do you learn from your wins as well as your losses?

Tom Kane, in his legal marketing blog, published a great post about learning from departing clients as well as from opportunities you miss out on. He provided some good advice about conducting ‘loss reviews’ and keeping channels of communication open with prospects and clients who choose to go elsewhere.

While it’s true that you learn a lot from your ‘losses’, I also believe you can learn a lot from your wins. As well as conducting ‘loss reviews’ I would also recommend professional services firms conduct ‘win reviews’ in order to find out:

  • why the client selected you,
  • what aspects of your approach and style they liked, and
  • what could be improved.

This is particularly important in a competitive tender situation. We had a client who won a major contract through a rigorous RFP process. We interviewed the company following our client’s win and found out some great information our client has been able to apply to future tenders. What was particularly interesting is that the reasons our client believed they had won, were not the reasons at all!

My rule of thumb is ‘don’t assume’. It’s easy to ask new clients (however you win them) why they chose to work with you and to seek their input into how you could improve your new business process. However, a word of caution: don’t take feedback from one win/loss review as gospel – clients have differing likes/dislikes and so you will need to use your judgement about what is likely to resonate with a particular target going forwards – the more you know about your prospective client, coupled with your past feedback, the better you will be able to tailor your approach to each opportunity.

And if you don’t get the work, as Tom said in his post – “losing a client does not have to be a total loss”. Here’s our two cents worth:

  1. If you pitch for a piece of business and miss out, conduct a loss review. Find out what the prospects decision making criteria were, how you performed against these, what they liked about your pitch, what they thought could be improved, what the winning person/team did that made them stand out, and any other suggestions the prospect has for future pitches.
  2. If a client (that you value) leaves you, find out the reasons why and what, if anything, you would need to do to work with them again in the future.
  3. When you lose a piece of work, give the person a call after three months to find out how things are going for him/her. Make sure you send them information of value to them occasionally along with a personal note.
  4. If a bill remains unpaid for longer than 30 days, call the client to find out if they were happy with the work you did. Don’t just follow up the unpaid invoice. Use it as an opportunity to evaluate your service.

I strongly believe that obtaining client/prospect and referrer feedback, wherever possible, is invaluable to building your business and improving your client service.

Learn from your wins and your existing clients so that you minimise the losses. But, when you do lose a client or a piece of work, learn from that too – and never assume it’s a permanent move – you may have to work hard, but you can win them back.

Do you conduct win/loss reviews on a regular basis? If so, how have these helped your business?

What advice would you give to others starting this process for the first time?

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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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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