Tag Archives: cross selling

What Your Doctor Can Teach You About Business Growth

For many decades, physicians have been taught the “3 A’s” of a sound medical practice. They are the 3 qualities that their patients will value most highly, in rank order of importance:

  1. Affability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Ability

Regardless of whether your professional field is medicine, law, technology or finance, that same ranking applies to how you are valued by clients, particularly in B2B businesses.

For better or worse, your clients judge you (or your firm) primarily on a personal, visceral basis. First, they must like you (“Affability”), and be confident in your commitment to them (“Accessibility.”)  Your actual performance (“Ability”) will always be judged by clients on a relative basis, compared with their own knowledge of your craft, their past experience with other providers, the career risks involved in making a change, etc.

This ranking priority may seem illogical to a lawyer, fund manager or a physician whose view of the world is built on measurable evidence and tangible outcomes. But this apparent anomaly in client sentiment is supported by many real life examples. Insurance companies report that doctors who admit their mistakes and apologize to patients are rarely sued. Successful stock brokers report that they seldom lose clients for poor portfolio performance, if they are quick to explain why it happened and what’s being done about it.

Although client communication is at least as important as actual performance in most service businesses, companies seldom give that task the attention it deserves.

But for firms that understand the business impact of client communication, and have made a commitment to pay more than lip service to the discipline, the most significant challenges involve:

  • Finding the proper communication frequency, channels and content
  • Cutting through the vast amount of information that clients receive each day
  • Applying tactics that reinforce their firm’s value proposition and differentiation

Here are a four ways to improve your firm’s client communication strategy:

Stop Guessing About What Clients Think: One of the most obvious yet overlooked ways to maintain and strengthen communication with clients is to ask them for their opinion. Legendary New York City Mayor Ed Koch constantly asked his constituents, “How am I doing?” And it was more than a political gimmick, as Koch always listened to their responses, and applied what he learned to improve his performance and reputation.

You can measure client sentiment on an informal basis, similar to Ed Koch; but you’re more likely to yield meaningful results if you conduct a formal survey either online and / or by telephone. Online platforms like surveymonkey.com make it easy to design, conduct and evaluate a client opinion survey. You can conduct phone interviews yourself, or engage a 3rd party.

There’s a widely used survey methodology that yield “Net Promoter Scores,” designed to measure client loyalty; but for most small firms, you really only need to ask three questions: 1. Are we meeting your expectations? 2. If not, why not?  3. How else can we add value to our relationship?  The responses will likely provide some basis on which you can measure client sentiment and make beneficial changes. But the intrinsic marketing value of any opinion survey – regardless of the questions or response rates – is that it lets clients know you care about them.

Consistency and Speed of Communication Matter: The cornerstone of your client communication strategy should involve regularly scheduled contact; ideally on a quarterly basis, and provide content that’s of genuine interest to them.  This does not include your performance / activity reports; news that touts your firm’s “Best of [fill in the blank] Award;” its 4 recently hired employees; or the results of last month’s employee 5k mud run. It should include viewpoints and guidance that’s not self-serving, and helps your clients to succeed. For scheduled contact, consistency also matters. Using floor broker lingo, this is a “Fill or Kill” decision, so either commit to scheduled client outreach, or don’t start a program.

Your firm should also be prepared, on an opportunistic basis, to communicate with its clients when there is some (internal or external) material event that may cause them to be confused, concerned or excited. This is a critical part of what “accessibility” means: that you’re always thinking of your client’s welfare. Whether it’s a 500-point drop in the Dow Industrials, or a new scientific discovery related to their business, you need to reach out to your clients – by email, phone, text, snail mail – as soon as possible to deliver the (bad or good) news. Ideally, you’ll also be in a position to help them avoid, adjust to or benefit from the information you provide.

Personalize Your Client Communications: Small firms have a significant marketing advantage, because it doesn’t take very much effort or expense to add a personal touch to their communications with clients. For starters, your firm should know and track personal information of key individuals, including their birthday, spouse / partner’s name, children’s names and ages, hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc. No detail is unimportant. 

An old adage, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” rings true across all lines of business. The more information you have about the personal lives of your clients, the better prepared you’ll be to have conversations about what’s most important to them, and to find ways to reinforce your long-term relationships. Ask about their trip to Belize. Send them a handwritten note when their hockey team wins the Stanley Cup, or when their daughter gets accepted to law school. Send a box of cigars when they win their club’s golf tournament. Treat them to dinner at an upscale restaurant on their 10th wedding anniversary. As long as your efforts are genuine, clients will remember, appreciate and reciprocate in terms of loyalty.

Think Outside the Box during Holiday Season: In lemming-like fashion, around the holidays most companies will send out a greeting card purchased from an online catalogue, imprinted with the firm’s name. (Many companies don’t even bother to sign their card, or to add a personal message.) Holiday season conformity can provide a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For example, instead of sending out a holiday greeting in mid-December, consider sending a clever Happy Thanksgiving card, which won’t get lost in the pile of December’s cards, and will avoid offending anyone, based on their religious affiliation.

Another way to stand out is to forgo the traditional cocktail party or reception, where great expense and advance planning can all be for naught if bad weather or a competing event keeps your invited guests from attending. As an alternative, host a fancy catered luncheon for your client’s entire staff at their own office location during the holiday season, where you attend and hand out the egg nog or candy canes. Or avoid the holiday madness altogether, and around Memorial Day send your clients a beach chair, boogie board or cooler (all featuring your firm’s logo) to celebrate the beginning of the summer season.

The real secret sauce of client communication for any business is to manage the effort as an opportunity rather than a necessary evil. Or in the words of Dicky Fox, fictional mentor of Jerry Maguire, from the 1996 movie of the same name:

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

Make that your own mission statement, and watch your business grow.

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What the US Marines Can Teach Your B2B Firm about Marketing and Sales

Every Marine a Rifleman

Every Marine a Rifleman

“Every Marine a Rifleman” is a basic tenet of the US Marine Corps.  At boot camp, every marine receives training in marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat and teamwork. Regardless of how (s)he ends up serving in the Corps – as a mechanic, lawyer, clerk, pilot, dentist or pastry chef – every marine is prepared and expected to apply their combat training whenever it’s required. That rifleman commitment serves as a tactical cornerstone of the Marine Corps’ Semper Fi (“Always Loyal”) motto.

B2B companies – professional service firms in particular – can benefit by creating a culture similar to the Marine Corps; training all employees with basic marketing & sales skills that can help the firm to grow and succeed. “Every Employee a Sales Rep” should be fully ingrained across a company’s work force, from the front desk to the corner office.

Many B2B firms – in legal, accounting, financial services and consulting disciplines – employ at least one rainmaker, typically a founding member, who brings in the lion’s share of new business. But that “outside / inside guy” dynamic puts a company at risk, because rainmakers can depart unexpectedly (by choice or by ambulance), and the firm’s growth rate is always limited by their energy, motivation and availability.  More importantly, this business model fails to leverage a firm’s “inside guys,” whose individual and collective business relationships, skills, experience and credibility should be harnessed to drive consistent revenue growth and to scale the operation.

Regardless of their title, job description or capacity to work the room at a social event, every B2B executive should be given training, tools and ongoing support that empowers them to:

  • Manage Their Personal Brand – Clients hire individuals, rather than a firm, to help them. To showcase their credentials, every account practitioner should maintain a complete and up-to-date biographical profile on the company’s website and on LinkedIn. To expand their visibility, they should also participate in at least one activity unrelated to employment, whether  that’s membership in the local chapter of a professional trade association, their daughter’s soccer team, or a fly fishing club.
  • Articulate the Firm’s Value Proposition – Many employees, even at the senior level, do not have a clear understanding of what makes their firm different from the competition, and are at a loss to provide a compelling      reason why someone should engage them. Like a good marine, every employee should know their firm’s “elevator pitch,” and be prepared to recite it whenever someone asks, “So…who do you work for?”
  • Nurture Their Professional Network – Every practitioner has a network of current and former clients, associates in other disciplines, friends, relatives, neighbors and individuals they’ve met at conferences or social events.  Business contacts are often included in the firm’s CRM system, and may receive quarterly newsletters or other communications issued by the company. But account practitioners should also maintain direct and regular contact with their entire personal network in order to nurture and expand those relationships, because referrals are driven by casting a wide net.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness – The marketing challenge for most B2B firms is making the short list of candidates called in for an assignment. To increase their odds of getting that call, firms must constantly sow seeds with clients, prospects and referral sources, driving top-of-mind awareness regarding the firm’s capabilities and credentials. Every practitioner should play an active role in that process by generating relevant content – in the form of blog posts, bylined articles, case studies, industry updates, slide presentations, etc. – that can be merchandised by the firm to keep the firm in play.
  • Sell Intrinsically – Because “inside guys” embody the firm’s intellectual capital and deliver its services and solutions, they are best prepared to demonstrate to prospects and clients the firm’s capacity to add value, which is its most powerful sales tactic. Intrinsic (or “consultative”) selling is what converts prospects to clients, and not including account practitioners in the sales presentation process can handicap a firm’s growth potential.
  • Seek Cross-Selling Opportunities – The professional practitioner assigned to an account is the steward of that relationship. As a trusted advisor, the practitioner has an in-depth understanding of each client’s current needs, as well as insight into what additional services might be of value. Based on that 360° perspective, the account practitioner is in the strongest position to recommend new services or an expansion of existing work. But many practitioners fear this solicitation will compromise their professionalism, or put the client relationship at risk. Both of those obstacles to increasing account penetration can be addressed with proper tools and training.
  • Ask for Referrals – This is a tough task for most account practitioners.  However, if they’ve nurtured their network, gained confidence by learning how to cross-sell to existing clients, and have rehearsed the referral request process, then practitioners can make this a painless routine.

“Every Employee a Sales Rep” will not be achieved simply by establishing firm-wide mandates. The program must be driven by internal disciplines – consisting of written guidelines, worksheets and in-house training – that provide employees with proper guidance, support, feedback and motivation. Combined with a senior-level commitment to change the culture, and firm-wide acknowledgement that the transformation will be difficult, your B2B company can greatly enhance its sales and marketing capability. Semper Fi.

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