Important Questions

Do You Have Too Many Customers? This question was posed to a room of about 80 business owners and senior executives. Not surprising, there wasn’t anyone in the audience that said yes. In fact, there was a low chorus of chuckles and incredulity.

The presenter then asked: Are you making too much money? The collective response was the same, but noticeably even louder, with more laughter. The entire audience was fully engaged. EVERYONE wanted MORE customers and money. Go figure!

This presentation was about customer experience and journey mapping – very important topics for all businesses. Yet, it occurs to me that every business owner and executive charged to grow their business might reflect upon these two questions and arrive at completely different change initiatives to generate MORE customers and MORE money.  It might be improvements in IT infrastructure, operational efficiency, HR hiring practices, marketing communication, and/or a host of other critical business activities.

Our advisory practice helps businesses to improve “customer-facing” employee motivations, capabilities, and habits, and the company processes and business practices that support customer creation and customer retention. We help sales teams to sell more effectively and all employees to deliver customer services that keep more customers. Many business owners have concerns in this area.

While the challenges (we call them GAPS … hence our company name) vary in each company, it is important to frequently evaluate poor financial performance to determine what is causing the shortfalls.

For instance, if the challenge is weak revenue growth, the resolution of that issue may reside in the sales team, or it may reside elsewhere in the business. It may derive from dysfunctional company hiring or onboarding practices, or order processing procedures. Numerous factors can combine to have a negative impact on customer perceptions of the value delivered.

We believe all business owners need to understand the root causes of underperformance, the resources required to resolve those challenges, and how best to prioritize the resolution of those challenges.

The perspectives of independent expertise can help businesses in this discovery process, and implement specific initiatives that can move the entire organization to being significantly less forceful in answering the two questions posed in this post.

One final question: What are you doing about it?

 

Belief and Trust

Belief and trust are not the same. Sometimes they interact, sometimes they conflict. Once upon a time people believed in fire breathing dragons, but science has never documented their existence. Beliefs change over time, especially with experience and knowledge. In those days of dragons, Kings and Queens ruled the land … but in modern times people believe more in self-rule.

Trust – is a simple word that can be much more than belief. Trust sometimes occurs without empirical or scientific evidence – what we call proof. We understand it as it relates to our personal relationships. Trust is vital with families and friends, because we believe they will not harm us.

In some instances, “doing no harm” grows to putting other’s interests ahead of our interests, such as the relationship between parents and their children.

In business, what defines trust and why is it important?

We believe that trust in the workplace is not automatic – it must be earned. For employees, trusting an employer is the result of not only personal experiences with the owners and executive team, but includes the collective perceptions of fellow employees. It extends to observing how the company treats vendors, customers, and others in the marketplace.

Because of widespread social media, negative perceptions of company actions can adversely affect an employee’s mindset, and consequently their productivity. Business research proves that highly motivated employees – those who believe in the company’s Mission, Vision, Purpose, and Values – become far more productive employees.

Many articles and blogs describe toxic managers, employee disengagement, and dysfunctional company cultures. This is the evidence of beliefs ruined, and trust removed. These realities cause financial losses for the company.

Loss of internal trust … extends to perceptions of mistrust outside the company – with vendors, prospects, and even clients who begin to consider other options.

Workplace trust is intensely personal and collective. It is the relationship between employees, and the company they represent. It is the relationship between a manager and a team member. It is the relationship among a company’s sales and service representatives, prospects, and existing customers. Every one of those relationships is strengthened and maintained with TRUST.

For any business to succeed, it is not just in what all players can BELIEVE, it is in what they can TRUST.

 

Prospects and Persuasion

Every business starts with a belief that they have a product or service that others need and will buy. The business usually starts slowly, as time, energy, research, and an untold number of conversations with friends, colleagues, external advisors, and potential customers begins to congeal into a Vision, Mission, and Purpose.

Assuming the business has achieved a reasonable measure of market traction, and as the business pushes through its initial months and years, the structure, strategies, and tactics of the business solidifies. Processes and practices are formed, refined, integrated, and executed by employees, each with specific roles and responsibilities to create and retain customers. We call it Customer Building.

But, it’s not just about creating customers. Ultimately, it is about thrilling your customers to promote retention and long-term advocacy. To create, thrill, and retain customers is, truly, a never-ending set of activities.

What is included in the process of customer creation? It must involve:

  1. Understanding the opportunity and the prospect’s business needs and concerns,
  2. Creating trust in you and your company,
  3. Solving prospect problems aligned to your company’s offering,
  4. Effectively communicating how your company can and will accomplish the objectives, and
  5. Building an ongoing relationship.

Some would describe the above process as selling … the requisite steps in closing a sale.

In certain business settings and industries, these individuals would be titled as Sales Representatives, Sales Managers, Vice President of Sales, and similar titles. These companies are business-to-business oriented, and are in industries that are more typically product-driven and transactional.

Other businesses would prefer to describe the same process as customer or business development, and have the same objective – closing a sale.  These individuals frequently have titles that either say Business Development or Customer Development, or offer no indication that a core role and responsibility includes “selling” – regardless of the label assigned to it. These companies are also business-to-business oriented, but are in industries that are services-driven and far less transactional.

Many companies that emphasize “customer development” are lawyers, accountants, bankers, wealth advisors, consultants, architects, and engineers – and in other professions that have a longer vision of customer creation. Many of these individuals are owners, principals, and associates in their companies, or hold CEO, President, General Manager, and other titles that signify leadership rather than selling responsibilities.

Regardless of the title or label, the “selling” process is the same. Only the language is different.

You are persuading a prospect to become a client.

Frameworks That Drive Customer Advocacy

Every business struggles with creating new clients. Whole departments and countless resources focus on selling – on finding and persuading prospects that your company can satisfy a given need, solve specific problems, and that your value proposition is a “fair exchange.”

Whether your business is small or large, or you are selling to consumers or other businesses, the challenge is constant. Create more customers.

But, then the big challenge is to keep the newly onboarded customer. This challenge is frequently underserved, with less resources assigned to assure customer retention. Given the cost and extreme effort required to land a new customer, focus on delivering heightened customer experiences that emotionally connect your new customer to their initial decision to give you their business.

Improved customer retention is about meeting … and even exceeding customer expectations. Beyond the actual delivery of a service or product, it is about how the customer perceives the interaction with your company. It is about consistently creating a positive emotional connection with your brand promise.

How Is This Accomplished?

First, it takes a commitment from leadership that customer retention is a top priority. Second, there must be a candid assessment of customer-facing processes and points of contact, either direct or via an employee’s work product. An independent third party typically best accomplishes this, to assure truthful feedback and objective analysis. Fourth, get candid input from your customers. Again, this requires third party objectivity. Finally, a strategic customer retention plan is then devised, dedicating resources to move forward a variety of initiatives that address specific priorities.

As each company is different, retention initiatives will be different in each company. Often, the changes are simple and exceedingly low in cost – from small changes in customer-facing processes that give a greater voice to minor or major shortfalls in customer service, to training employees to better understand that their individual behaviors can have a negative or positive impact – providing them a clear understanding of company expectations and how best to elevate performance.

The ultimate business goal goes beyond achieving customer retention. It is to achieve customer advocacy, wherein your customers are so thrilled with your company that they actively recommend and support the ongoing success of your business to other prospective customers.

Solving Gaps

Let’s look at gaps from the lens of HOW a business can solve them.

Literally, we work on GAPS. We think you should, too.

We believe that gaps – also called challenges, problems, issues, roadblocks or even headaches – once resolved, can significantly accelerate individual and companywide achievement. We see gaps as impediments to progress, and if removed, good or even great things can happen.

The good news is that some business gaps can be resolved quickly. Others can take more time and resources. Many can be resolved with minimal investment.

What resources do you need to make positive changes in your business? They fall into several broad categories – Expertise, Experience, Time, Objectivity, and, of course, Financial. All are important. Look outside your company if you are missing one or more.

Solving your company’s problems starts with Awareness, by understanding which organizational gaps are limiting individual, team, or even companywide performance.

Sometimes a gap is so commonplace, that it almost goes unnoticed or is assumed as being normal, or as one business owner said to us, “I just came to expect a certain level of complaints from new customers.” Your gaps might be about falling revenues, low margins, a significant spike in customer complaints, employee attrition, the loss of one or more key clients, or a host of other concerns. A few key questions come to mind.

  • What is causing the GAP?
  • Which GAPS are easily resolved?
  • Which GAPS are larger challenges?
  • What GAPS are the highest priorities to resolve?
  • What internal resources are needed to affect a given change?

If internal resources are missing, rely on external expertise.

As gaps are observed (or periodically), leaders and managers in your company should be asking these questions. In some instances, it may be important to get feedback from external stakeholders, including vendors and customers. If input is needed from your customers, use external resources to qualitatively interview for increased objectivity. Customers will almost always NOT provide candid answers … if an employee is posing the questions. And shy away from a reliance on surveys. Qualitative interviewing will consistently bring better results.

When the questions are answered, the gaps are typically more clearly defined. Then you can be more strategic, make better decisions, and solve problems holding you back from desired levels of performance.

Again, solving performance-robbing business gaps starts by moving from having limited awareness to having a greater understanding by gathering more information. Then you can plan, and prioritize which processes, systems, and employee behaviors that need to be changed to create opportunities for the outcomes you want.

Working on company gaps is an effective means to accelerate financial strength.