Bio: Lisa is the Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth® LLC. As a strategic growth expert and keynote speaker, she has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, as well as EMC, Adobe, Sony, Microsoft, OppenheimerFunds, and BMC Software. Within two years, she helped her clients generate $83M in new business. Lisa is a sought-after speaker for associations and leaders worldwide.
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- Your clients comprise most of
your social circle.
- At least 20 percent of your revenue is derived from one large client.
- You deploy an arbitrary resource allocation process.
- Your delivery resources are at the beck and call of the sales team. This encourages artificial “rush” jobs to be accepted and done at the expense of development.
- Principals are deeply involved in delivering service and making sales calls. Every project is unique because clients demand changes, solutions and change orders—at no extra charge.
- You encourage personal-boundary erosion. After-hours calls and pages are worn like a badge of honor. Your team cannot enjoy a meal without their smart phones beside them to harass their dining companions. If your sales, marketing and support people are encouraging your clients to call them on a 24/7 basis, and they sleep with their smartphones on their bed stands, then you are a client-driven culture—not to mention dysfunctional. Would you want to be married to that person?
- Suit vs. creative mentality. According to David Baker, founder of Recourses and author of Managing Right the First Time, “”Suit” is shorthand for account executives. In a business that’s focused too much on saying “yes” to clients, suits often make promises that the creative types or technicians have to fulfill. This will kill profits and morale in a heartbeat.
When your biggest customer calls with an emergency request, do you dial 911? Chances are you are setting off unintended fire alarms—and causing your profits to lose altitude.
I met Shane, a dubiously anointed “star salesperson,” on a client assignment in San Diego. He piloted the biggest customers. When I worked with the general manager of this $40M software division—his boss—I noticed how Shane could turn the entire support and customer-service organization into a tailspin with one email. I cringed when I witnessed how his knee-jerk reactions drove adrenaline levels to an all-time high. Things became so heated that the CEO ultimately reassigned him to another division. In fact, he committed an even greater sin: he promoted him to VP of Sales.
Over the years, Shane’s general manager was equally to blame. He fostered a customer-driven culture. And, as a B2B business leader, you may be unconsciously acting the same way. This behavior is guaranteed to stall your growth and burn out your best people.
First, let’s draw a distinct line between customer-focused and customer-driven cultures. Think of customer-driven companies as those firms that will go the extra mile for every customer, no matter how large or small. They allocate their best resources to every account. And the founders probably invest at least half of their
time on customers.
Conversely, customer-centric companies put customer needs (latent and overt) front and center when making important growth decisions—not all decisions. They treat clients in accordance with their
values. But they are unwilling to sacrifice their relationships and principles to make one more sale.
Contrary to common wisdom, every B2B firm is not in the customer-service business. My auto mechanic is. And guess what? If they mess up my new Audi SUV, I will complain and find another one.
Common Traits of Client-driven Cultures
If more than three ring true for you, it may be time to re-visit your true purpose and ways of operating:
Imagine if my local airport, Washington National, were run this way. Any self-appointed “important person” would fight to control his own runway. The gates would admit passengers on a first-come, first-served basis. Air traffic control would be rendered useless. The inmates would be running the asylum.
The Shanes of your company cannot be trusted roaming the airport terminal without adult supervision. Nor are your teams if you have given them carte blanche to rule the airways with customer-driven behaviors. Act now before the controllers (your customers) go on strike.
Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.
Article as seen first in FastCompany.
By Lisa Nirell, Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth® LLC
Our last two posts, Customer Advisory Boards, Part 1 and Customer Advisory Boards, Part 2, showcased the definition and design of customer advisory boards. Let’s say you succeeded in these first two steps in your CAB strategy: Design and Recruitment. How can you keep the CAB vibrant for years to come?
Set the stage for success by creating a high-impact meeting framework and follow-up strategy.
After interviewing over two dozen B2B companies that actively manage CABs, I discovered strategies they have in common that keep CAB programs vibrant:
1. Allocate ample meeting preparation time.
Well-established CAB program leaders told me that it is not unusual for each executive sponsor to invest at least 15 to 20 hours per quarter in preparatory activity. Provide the agenda at least a week in advance to participants, and don’t be shy about requesting they complete homework in advance.
2. Select locations conducive to creative thinking and collaboration.
Choose modestly upscale retreat settings over over-stimulating adult playgrounds. The managing partner of a management consulting firm based in Seattle recently chose Las Vegas for an upcoming advisory board meeting, and began to reconsider his choice of location.
3. Create a collaborative container at every meeting.
Effective customer board meetings begin with a clear purpose and ground rules. Transplace, a supply-chain technology firm based in Dallas, launches every meeting with the mission of “providing a forum where Transplace customers can share ideas, discuss solutions and plan activities that achieve global supply-chain excellence.” Marnie Ochs-Raleigh, CEO of Evolve Systems, says: “During the CAB, you should not complain about other clients, employees or competitors. Instead, focus on what is going well and what needs to improve. I also make a point while introducing each person to the group what the reason was they were chosen to participate and provide a 30-second commercial about their skill set and business. In all things, add value and credit where it is due.”
4. Balance structure with white space.
Deb Bradley, Senior Vice President of Client Solutions at Verisk Health, adds, “In the early meetings, we found that we were mainly the ‘talking heads’ and provided more of a status update. We found that by asking for topics ahead of time, assigning homework and then scheduling dedicated time on the agenda for open discussion, we increased the value of the meetings. Also, as the client interaction grew, so did the communication outside of council meetings. Clients began using
each other as
support groups. Issues addressed between meetings were then shared with the group at the next session.”
5. Engage seasoned external CAB experts.
According to Luc Vezina, VP of Product Management at Kinaxis, “It really helps to have an outside facilitator. We feel uncomfortable telling a very loud customer to allow time for other members to contribute.” Luis Ramos, CEO of The Network Inc., suggests, “A facilitator is seen as a neutral party. This encourages open participation and allows members to feel less pressure from the company concerning their responses.” Consider hiring companies such as The Geehan Group and Advisory Board Architects to minimize costly trial and error. Both companies have launched and managed over 100 advisory boards. (Full disclosure: I have no financial ties to
6. Create positive forums for interaction.
Ian Knox, VP of Worldwide Marketing for Daptiv, a privately held technology company based in Seattle, Washington, suggests smaller lunch breakout groups and discussion topics. Daptiv also invites well-known industry analysts as guest speakers. Some B2B organizations have customers who are very comfortable with virtual meetings. Chris Pick, VP of Marketing for Apptio, designed the CAB to help CIOs run IT more like a business. Their audience feels comfortable using web-based collaboration tools.
7. Implement the best ideas.
You want the CAB members to feel heard and valued—respond quickly to their recommendations, and implement the best ones. Every CAB host also shared meeting minutes immediately following the gatherings.
8. Maintain strong follow-up systems.
Betty Otter-Nickerson, President of Sage Healthcare in Tampa, Florida, recommends virtual web-based monthly meetings. Beware of becoming overzealous with technology. Depending on their learning orientation and preferences, your advisory board members may not prefer crowd sourcing tools and online forums over live face-to-face meetings.
9. Aim for transformation, not just conversation.
The key to CAB longevity is engaging your members in different and deeper ways over time. If you are effective at adding more value to their business lives during each meeting, you will notice that they start helping you solve really tough issues. CAB members naturally begin to care as much or more about the individuals as they do the companies.
10. Conduct meaningful ROI analysis.
Colin Gounden, the President and Chief Marketing Officer of Integreon, tracks the growth rate of customer-advocate growth and innovation that is spawned by the group. John Fuller, Toro’s Product Manager for the Irrigation Golf Business Division, tracks both the number of individual product-improvement submissions received and attainment of year-to-date product sales goals. By the end of Toro’s latest fiscal year, they exceeded product sales goal by 20 percent. Fuller says, “We would have probably met these goals without the Council, but it would have taken significantly more time. Furthermore, our R&D costs would have been higher.” Huang Vuong, CEO of Unisfair, measures customer retention and renewals. Since they launched the Customer Advisory Board in 2009, this technology start-up saw retention and renewals for their tier A accounts grow 20 percent year over year.
Doug Mow, Senior VP of Marketing from Virtusa, reminds us that assessing ROI extends far beyond the sponsoring company’s strategic objectives. “The real value to the participant is the opportunity to be heard.”
About the Author
Lisa Nirell is the Chief Energy Officer of EnergizeGrowth® LLC. As a strategic growth expert and keynote speaker, she has worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs, as well as EMC, Adobe, Sony, Microsoft, OppenheimerFunds, and BMC Software. Within two years, she helped her clients generate $83M in new business. Lisa is a sought-after speaker for associations and leaders worldwide.
Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.
Our previous post outlined the essential definition and purpose of a customer advisory board (CAB). If you are embarking on this effort, be prepared for the potential to generate breakthroughs you never imagined.
During my interviews with advisory-board experts and over two dozen B2B firms, I discovered nine strategies for designing an effective CAB. Many of them shared some impressive ROI
from their programs. These strategies will give you a foundation for success and will minimize time-wasting planning activities.
1. Define the purpose of your CAB.
As stated earlier, do not confuse a CAB with a focus group, product user group, one-time symposium or client-recognition event. According to Simon Angove, CEO of GMT Corporation, “Our advisory board has four key goals. First, we want to get our clients involved in early release programs so they can act as references when the product is released. Second, our board formally influences our products’ strategic direction. The result is a better quality product that is field-proven. Additionally, the board members act as ‘trusted advisors’ on how GMT can act on key trends. Finally, the board provides a formal channel through which customers can share best practices and offer advice.” It’s no accident that GMT has boasted a 95 percent client retention rate over the past five years.
2. Create a
written profile of the ideal CAB member.
Keep your executive team at bay, and do not invite anyone until the profile is documented. For example, do you want them to be influential industry pundits? Are they passionate about some aspect of your business, such as employee development and retention, marketing or federal tax laws? If you strictly invite your biggest clients or industry celebrities, you may later be thrust into an uncomfortable position to fire that member.
3. Give yourself ample time to recruit members.
Bob Arciniaga, founder of Advisory Board Architects, asserts that “most people don’t understand that building an advisory board is going to take 150 hours and four to six months to identify and recruit members.” Provide member candidates ample time to consider your invitation; with their busy schedules, they may need at least a month.
4. Establish clear expectations with potential new members.
A minimum of five days’ effort per year is a common time requirement. Much like a board of directors, your CAB needs time to prepare for meetings, contribute to the agenda and reach out to other members for input.
5. Keep the group small and intimate.
Among the 28 B2B companies I interviewed, those with longstanding, highly collaborative groups averaged six to 15 members. When groups expand beyond that size, they are forced to divide the group into special interest areas, and managing discussions can become unwieldy.
6. Mix it up.
Colin Gounden, President and Chief Marketing Officer of Integreon, hosts a board that comprises an equal number of existing clients, top-tier clients and a few prospects. The group also includes one or two industry thought leaders and executive board members. He has found that a variety of backgrounds creates a draw.
7. Address the compensation issue early.
At a minimum, plan on covering out-of-town members’ travel and living expenses. If they are locally based, provide a modest but memorable event at an upscale location. As a special bonus, consider donating fees to their favorite charity. Some firms deduct their advisory-board fee (typically $500 to $1,000) from a future engagement or product invoice.
8. Develop a written advisory-board member agreement.
This should include an indemnification clause that holds members harmless from any damages, losses, suits and fines against your firm. The agreement should also stipulate time expectations and grounds for termination. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. Consult your legal team to generate a simple, straightforward agreement.
9. Stay fluid.
Since every CAB has a shelf life, be prepared to replace up to a third of your members every year. You will achieve milestones that your group helped you reach. As your company reaches the next level of growth, naturally seek out different talent. Ask your group to recommend new members. Their willingness to help is a clear sign that you have succeeded with your CAB.
Bob Arciniaga, founder of Advisory Board Architects, comments that “most B2B and professional services firms (e.g., legal, financial, engineering, staffing, architecture, etc.) can be helped by a CAB, as their businesses are highly competitive and commoditized with few differentiating factors between them. Having a group helps a firm understand how it can better market, price and service those clients to meet their exact needs while expanding its market penetration. In these challenging economic times, who couldn’t benefit from this type of business intelligence?”
I couldn’t agree more.
Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.
Article first posted in FastCompany.
If you were the VP of Marketing of an Atlanta-based technology firm three years ago, chances are you were not having fun.
Jill, the VP, was working diligently in her office one day when the CEO walked in to pay a visit. The CEO, Don, proudly announced that he was ready to fund a customer advisory board (CAB). The company just recently received a hefty VC financial
boost, and the CAB would help them grow faster.
Or so he hoped.
Don handpicked the members he wanted to invite—over 30 individuals—and Jill had no say in the group nominees. Over a two-year period, the CAB experienced 60 percent turnover. Group members were tired and were being used primarily as a test bed for new innovations. The CAB disbanded with little fanfare.
When I recently interviewed more than 30 B2B companies with CAB experiences, similar debacles were reported more often than you would think.
What is a CAB?
If you are considering building a CAB program for your organization, tread carefully. Begin first with understanding its true purpose.
A CAB is defined as an ongoing customer membership program. Ideally, it contains fewer than 16 members. Well-designed programs help B2B companies:
- Refine and validate strategic plans.
- Radically improve customer service.
- Uncover new product and service opportunities and ideas.
- Deepen customer relationships.
- Provide value-added, confidential discussion forums for customers and industry allies.
Here is what a CAB is NOT. It is not a collection of handpicked friends and diehard fans who will perpetuate group-think.
The Purpose of a Customer Advisory Board
Customer advisory boards differ from focus groups, impersonal satisfaction surveys or celebratory recognition events. They are infinitely better than relying exclusively on
your sales team to report second-hand information. Most importantly, they serve to create a long-term, collaborative container for deepening your customer relationships and community impact.
While researching companies who deploy CABs, we found that their sponsor companies had several common traits:
- They are sincerely growth-oriented.
- They believe in gathering unfiltered feedback to refine their future plans and services.
- They are passionate about developing trusted advisor relationships with senior decision-makers and industry influencers—and making a difference.
- They need to adapt quickly to industry and regulatory shifts to ensure continuity.
- They are action-oriented and are
willing to implement
actions that advisors recommend.
If these traits describe your firm, you may just be well-positioned to build a strong CAB program. In our next article, we will discuss nine strategies to design an effective Customer Advisory Board and myriad examples of companies with high-performing boards.
Until then, keep your office door closed and your CEO distracted.
Copyright Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.
Article first posted
I recently attended the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit at the Gannett headquarters office in Vienna, Virginia. This information-packed day of keynotes, panels and nonstop networking was worth the price of admiss
If you are seeking answers and major breakthrough ideas, then my takeaways may surprise and disappoint you. I did not discover any new technology breakthroughs. I didn’t meet a plethora of hot customer-centric growth companies, although CustomInk has great potential and will be featured in a future post.
Instead, I left with a series of questions about the future of marketing in this increasingly complex, technology-addicted business world. Here are some contemporary questions that every CMO and VP of marketing needs to raise:
1. Does our messaging and content strategy improve our customers’ lives in some way, or are we simply tooting our horn? HubSpot CMO, Mike Volpe, says his company has reduced its content development by up to 40% per month. (See my interview with him below). Customers and prospects are simply inundated with information and they’re ignoring the messenger.
2. Where can we get the highest return on our social media efforts? A recent UMass Dartmouth study found that the percentage of companies that blog dropped from 50% to 37% in 2011. They are now shifting their social media resources to Facebook and LinkedIn. Building “Likes” and followers does not always translate into educating your customers and improving their lives.
3. How will CMOs demonstrate a strong ROI on integrated marketing? Even the most seasoned CMOs are grappling with how to make integrated marketing pay off. Jason Jue, CMO of Vocus, stressed that it’s a delicate balance between message marketing and metrics marketing. “I love Salesforce.com because they found a way to do this,” he said. “They use news releases very effectively to drive people to read their content and drive more web traffic.” Jue is right. When Salesforce.com was founded, it was viewed as an ASP. Today, they live in the upper-right quadrant of the social enterprise industry category.
4. What can CMOs do to balance the important, creative, playful aspects of marketing with left-brain analytics and planning? Sadly, the Summit succumbed to the sexy technology topics: blogging, inbound marketing, mobile marketing and marketing automation. A soupçon of the importance of deepening customer connections emerged during the “Newest Trends in B2B Marketing” panel. Debra Lavoy, director of product marketing from OpenText, says it well. “The role of marketing is to become chief storyteller. The art of storytelling pulls teams together and has a huge impact on the customer.” Her point of view was simply refreshing.
5. How will CMOs drive revenue streams, not just demand streams? Brian Reed, CMO of BoxTone, shared how his company operates among dozens of competitors and often struggles to stand out above the noise. They needed to get creative. “We shifted position from technology providers to strategic advisors by approaching healthcare companies and showing them how to enter the nonprofit arena.”
6. Whom will we trust with our marketing planning strategies? No CMO can go it alone. The marketing landscape is rife with technology posers, boring branding agencies and bright, shiny objects. Consider firms that create new categories, such as HubSpot, as potential growth partners. Watch the video for some words of wisdom from Mike Volpe, HubSpot CMO.
Storytellers. Innovators. CIOs in training. Community activists. Statisticians. The final question to ponder is “what will CMOs be when they grow up?”
[This article originally appeared in FastCompany]
A recent article in U.S. News & World Report disclosed that in 2010, airlines have generated $2.1B in additional passenger revenues through clever, and often egregious pricing strategies. If they had asked their customers for ways to make travel memorable again, would they have selected this strategy to grow revenues?
The “pay to breathe, walk or eat” pricing approach is rapidly eclipsing customer service in the airline industry, and customers like me are furious. Their nickel and dime strategy are earning them billions: Extra baggage fees comprised $600M in additional revenues and flight changes comprised another $900M.
StarCite, a B2B technology company serving the travel industry, has charted a different course to fuel growth. I recently met with Greg Dukat, their CEO. He outlined a customer-centric growth strategy that challenges the airlines’ approach, and will surely outlive it.
First, some background. StarCite, Inc. has developed a global, Web-based technology platform that makes meeting and event management simpler and more cost-effective for corporations, hotels, venues and meeting suppliers. StarCite offers visibility, cost savings, and control over meeting spending for businesses. It also enhances revenue opportunities for suppliers. They automate every meeting planning step, including planning, payment and procurement. Today, corporate meeting buyers and associations can connect and conduct business with over 93,000 hotels, venues, destinations and suppliers.
Instead of using price increases as a growth strategy, Dukat and his team are listening to their industry members and travel association. Says Dukat: “More of our corporate customers wanted greater visibility into their travel spend. The corporations who use our solution will spend over $2B in corporate events. Last August, we partnered with the National Business Travel Association because more and more of our customers wanted clear standards and benchmarks on which to focus.” This led to the successful launch of an entirely new certification program called the Strategic Meetings Management Program (SMMP).
Where were the airlines when Starcite was designing this program? If they were truly listening to business traveler customers, or cared about retaining customers, would they be so bold as to charge passengers for using the loo (as we’ve seen with Ryan Air)?
The secret to Starcite’s success is neither the technical elegance of their solution, nor the huge capital infusion from equity partners. This certainly helped them build the foundation. Instead, Dukat places a great deal of credit to their innovative culture.
Unlike most commercial airlines, Starcite continues to experience a steady stream of happy customers and high renewal rates. Even if you are not facing 30+% annual growth rates, consider how they foster innovation, and how you can apply this strategy in your business.
Dukat continues; “We have an abundance of ideas within Starcite and among our NBTA members. We have also scheduled two customer advisory panel meetings annually to gather input. The secret is how we filter those ideas quickly and act on the good ones.”
Growth companies such as Starcite have an unusual and somewhat enviable challenge–they generate too many ideas, and seldom see the light of day. Here is the discussion guide they use to move their best ideas forward:
1. What’s the source of the idea?
2. Has anyone generated this idea before us?
3. If not, how can we use our customer advisory panel in this idea generation process?
4. What do other industry leaders think of this innovation?
5. Are there things we are doing within our internal operations that would help us refine this idea, and bring it to market sooner? Where can tribal knowledge help us?
6. Once we choose how to proceed, how will we measure the success of what we have done?
7. What else can we learn from this experience? Might this spawn other new product ideas?
Even when a customer cannot anticipate their future needs, Dukat asserts
“I think it’s all in the questioning. Open-ended questioning gets the dialog started and helps them get outside the traditional box. Their feedback helped us successfully launch our QuickStart programs, which are pre-packaged solutions for specific markets.”
Does this filtering process work? The proof is in the numbers. Within the past nineteen months, Starcite has maintained a very high customer renewal rate, expanded their footprint within existing organizations, improved the quality of their customers’ work flow, and reported strong profits.
Dukat summarizes “In smaller high growth companies there are not enough resources to go around. Focus on the actions that make a difference and do a good job of vetting them, and execute well. Be careful you don’t keep adding to the list.”
I hope the airlines are taking notes and adjusting the knobs on their control panel. Otherwise, their customer base and repute will fall into a black hole.
Hear the complete interview with Greg Dukat now.
This post originally appeared on FastCompany.com. Copyright 2010, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.
The Secret Weapon To Help You Outpace Your Competitors
What is a mastermind group, and why should you care? They may just be the secret weapon to help you outpace your competitors and weather these stormy economic seas.
In the 1930’s, wealth expert and author Napoleon Hill defined a mastermind group as “the coordination of knowledge and effort of two or more people, who work toward a definite purpose, in the spirit of harmony.” Well before he authored Think and Grow Rich, Ben Franklin introduced a similar model.
In 1728, at the ripe young age of 21, Franklin created a club of mutual improvement called a junto (pronounced “hoon-toe”). Franklin was struggling to grow his printing business, and knew he could not do it alone. The junto, which comprised seasoned tradesmen, a bartender, and an astrologer, gave him the boost he needed to thrive. As a side benefit, this group surreptitiously shaped public opinion.
Whatever you prefer to call these special societies, you will notice they have withstood the test of time, and have created fortunes for thousands, if not millions. Today, you can find juntos in Paris, London, New York, and parts between.
Our careers may have become more sophisticated in the past few decades, but the need for collaboration and support in this volatile economy is stronger than ever.
Ever since launching my business in 2002, I have formed and joined five groups, and have enjoyed most of the experiences immensely. I need this framework for two reasons: first, I currently live in a very remote region in Oregon, and cannot find a group of like-minded business owners locally (this is one of the main reasons we are relocating). Second, the structure of mutual support and accountability keeps me on track and energized about my company’s mission and potential.
Here are the modern-day strategies I have learned about mastermind groups:
1. The group must share the same values about business. This drives mutual respect and helps conflict resolution happen more swiftly.
2. People must be supportive, yet tough. This includes establishing rules for resolving conflict, character attacks, and group turnover issues.
3. Accountability and “skin in the game” (time commitment, membership dues) trump socializing and buddy gatherings (e.g. golf outings).
4. The most effective groups maintain fewer than 5 members. If your group grows too large, some members may not have an equal say during gatherings.
5. Groups can have life spans ranging from six months to five years. It depends on the purpose of the group. Benjamin Franklin’s junto lasted thirty years!
6. It is okay to confront a member who is not pulling their weight, and only uses the group for personal gain. I recently fired a member from a group, knowing full well that the group might disband. The member was not adding any long term value to the group, and was clearly over-committed. Although I miss the other group members, I found this person’s marginal contribution to be a gradual drain on the group energy.
7. The group must have a written purpose statement and some basic operating guidelines to remain vibrant.
8. Celebration of key milestones is essential, not “nice to have.”
9. Someone has to be the leader. Keeping things organized and on schedule maintain group integrity. When the group feels “stale,” it probably is. Someone needs to monitor groupthink and encourage innovation.
10. Masterminds are not for everyone. If you are running a lifestyle business, dislike honest feedback, and do not believe in the abundance mindset, seek out another venue (such as lead sharing or networking groups) or hire a business coach.
Tony Robbins once said “people’s lives are a direct reflection of the expectations of their peer group.” If Benjamin Franklin and Napoleon Hill were alive today, they would wholeheartedly agree. What kind of company do you keep?
If we are the leading growth companies, we have an obligation to our communities, our clients and our employees.
We are in a strong position to fulfill this obligation. Our revenues are solid, we boast marquis clients and we are respected in our field.
Our clients look to us to lead the way on many fronts. This is an ideal time to inspire them, help them focus on key priorities and give them hope.
Here are five ways you can bolster their confidence:
1. Gather evidence that some of the best companies were founded during a recession.
These include Hyatt, Microsoft, FedEx, Apple and CNN.
McGraw-Hill found that sales grew 256% among companies that invested heavily in advertising for the three years following the recovery after the 1981-82 recession. Another study conducted in 2001 found that their market share grew two times over the firms that cut back on communications.
2. Practice client-focused mastery (CFM).
Listen closely to your clients. Arrange strengths surveys with outside objective interviewers. Click here for a checklist. Or http://www.energizegrowth.com/newsletter/harvest_your_strengths.html
Tighten up your professionalism. When you mess up, fess up. Develop clear response systems; e.g., respond to voicemails in three hours or less. Answer ALL emails within one day. People are instant response junkies these days. Show them you are on top of your game.Make it very easy for people to buy from you. Create an introductory service, low-cost booklet, CD kit or DVD for sale. Or create an experience for them to get a sample of what you offer (seminar, consultation, survey).
3. Be conscious of the company you keep and the language you use.
Surround yourself with positive people and clients. Invest time to identify high-potential prospects that are successful. Use language such as “thrive,” not “survive.”
Stay out of the coffee-room conversations about how bad things are. Don’t linger on negative topics such as war and economic doomsday predictions. You are only pouring gasoline on the fire.
4. Recognize that time and money are NOT resource issues; they are a question of priority.
If your clients tell you that they are too busy, or they do not have the budget, it is not a resource issue. You have simply not proven that you offer enough value for them to move ahead.
Before you can help a client see your value, model the behavior of priority-setting and focus on your own business. Shed excess weight in your own operation. Get rid of deadbeat clients, low-return projects and uninspiring non-profit commitments.
5. Negotiate terms, not fees.
The exception is when a client loses their loans or is illiquid. Extending payment terms to three payments instead of two payments over 90 days is fine, especially if they are an existing ideal client. But resist the temptation to drop your fees to get clients! Your brand erosion is difficult to reclaim during the recovery. Instead, create some low-cost introductory products and sell them on your website. Alan Weiss offers brilliant insights into marketing your value through Value-Based Fees http://tinyurl.com/prc58b. Make this a must-read.
We cannot deny that many of our clients are scared. They are indecisive and may even suffer from health issues and sleepless nights. Some blame their woes on the government. Some just hide and hope the economy will improve.
As trusted advisors running growth companies, we can choose to commiserate with them, or take the high road. I suggest you take the high road. These five strategies will help.