Having spent a little over 36 months as Consultant, when I primarily thrived on new projects with a thin network in an entirely new field, required me to build strong Customer Relations to keep projects flowing. This implies, I had to convert every single lead. Even if you are not Consulting, every job, definitely has a Customer. And it pays to re-engineer and reapply these to different contexts.
Customer Centric Strategies deliver Great Customer Experience
As a grandly learning Solopreneur, I learnt from my own mistakes that, “Enhancing Customer Experience” requires ICs to wear multiple hats. Unlike Employees of large SDOs (Service Delivery Organizations), ICs aren’t backed by Brand equity, Infrastructure, Policies, Teams or Processes during Customer Engagement. ICs thrive on a minimum of these to bag assignments:
- Subject Matter Expertise (SME)
- Value Proposition of Solution(s)
- Delivery turnaround
- Pricing – Of course!
- Service Delivery / Business Engagement Model
- Customer Relations
The first five are subjective, toggle priorities, and stand unique to each Consultant and the Business Problem, whereas Customer Relations is the common key to success. Aren’t Value added services rooted in this?
In general, projects come from a primal asset: “Network”. But I discovered in my journey, great possibilities to land unto new engagements with entirely new Clients / Companies. Due to the nature of short term projects, there may not be enough time for building great Customer Relations. While Quality of Service Delivery is imperative to Relationship building, there are other trust building factors, greatly valued by Customers. And these three aspects have worked as gradient boosters.
For now, let’s park aside, the Consulting aspect, and focus on Enhancing Customer Relations. I have tried to capture three strategies that have always brought me Respect, Trust and “Definitely”, more projects and referrals. Most Clients even agree to your price point post, these. In my new role, I am trying to use these to win consensus for a project. So, what are we waiting for?
KYC – Know Your Customer(s) – More than just Customer Profiling
It is easily called Customer Profiling, but profiling comes when you have many choices to make. I didn’t, and had to convert every single lead. So, I decided to keep it short, KYC. As much it is short only by name, KYC here, implies applying Innovation, Industry standards and Best practices to the Customer Profiling process.
Use of UX design to define Customer Personas and Designing at least two Case Interviews and Surveys for each persona, greatly helped me asking the right questions. Remember, three things:
1. Case Interview Questionnaires are not meant to be static. I reviewed my questionnaires every time before initiations, based on a quick Market Research for new Clients and projects for customization.
2. KYC does not imply banishing traditional radars like Risk Profiling, Market Research, Pain-point analysis, Balance sheet Analysis etc., This is a long list and deserves a separate post indeed.
3. The last and the most important point is that, “Customer” / “Client”, always mean two entities, (a) The Company and (b) The Business Reference Person. Studying the “Reference Person” is as important as studying the Business entity.
Spending these 12-15 hours ahead of any meeting, improves Customer confidence and Customer’s highly value an honest assessment, enjoy genuine interest and appreciate your professionalism.
The KYC practice involves quite an amount of effort and definitely shouldn’t be a freebie. It cannot be awarded as a complimentary service. ICs should get innovative and smart. Avoid frauds by charging a fee from the Customers initially, that could be waived off in the final / pre-final part payment. This also ensures that you are working with Customers who are capable, willing and intend to pay you. This way, you can avoid the bad eggs that ask for a quick project as “Proof of concept” in exchange of a large assignment that never existed in the first place. Definitely a factor to include in designing your Business Model.
Watch this space for a KYC methods, some Persona and Questionnaires designs, frameworks, processes and templates I used. Now to the second strategy.
Knowledge Sharing and Customer Education – Your Best Content Marketing Strategy
A KYC well-done, followed by an empathetic and detailed case interview, allows Key Knowledge Gaps, Challenges and Risks to surface easily. Most of these challenges require unbiased Customer Education to enable them make the right choices, even if it does mean turning down or walking out of an opportunity outside your SME. Aren’t they standards of Integrity and Professionalism? A sure shot way to earn referrals and more engagements! Sometimes, its just enough to be genuine!
Customer Education is the core of Content Marketing and has always worked wonders. Blogs and Web-sites thrive on Content Marketing and I really like this graph in particular, Thanks to SmartInsights.
I am not suggesting a new inclusion to this mega list, but considering our classroom session, to be a variant of an “In-person Event”, we are still in the 80th Percentile.
Consulting provides you direct, Face to Face touch points. Even a one hour session could transform “How your Customers perceive you”. But the choice of a topic is a two step process.
- Meticulous Outlining of a list of topics and the impact of this knowledge
- Allowing the customers to choose what they wish to learn without being overly suggestive
Start-up and Business Eco-system Evangelism – Help Organisations build Sustainability Strategies
The third and the most important key is to be aware of a Client’s Business Space and Eco-system(s) including the relevant players, small teams in the Start-up and Early-stagers’ space. Knowledge of Teams / Products / Investors relevant to the Client’s business provides a platform to discuss countless opportunities, and encourage the Customer, to build a Sustainability Strategy.
Growth always comes after sustainability. A few points to brood over from MITs review of Corporate Sustainability
In a real world scenario, on job, this usually entails speaking about your Business Organization and work to others. But before that, appraise the work of other Business Organizations and constantly look for a cross pollination of solutions and engagements. This involves being more than just the facilitator. This approach improves accountability and allows to nurture forthcoming behavior.
This practice also results in better:
- Customer Relations
- Business Connectivity for Partnerships, Collaboration and Cross-Sell Opportunities
- Access to Innovation, Complimentary and New Technologies
- Opportunities to Deploy Micro-services Model
This discussion will definitely trigger an alarm among customers to take stock of their position and re-assess strategies. Countless are opportunities for growth through partnerships. Partnerships and Micro-Services are the way forward for businesses to remain lean and mean.
Your Potential to drive meaningful partnerships can take you a long way. I will share with you, a time, when I wrote partnership proposals to a group of clients that I had to walk out of, but had them mutually benefit from the engagement and I did earn a surprise honorarium too!
Speaking optimism, this suggests outside of the box partnership opportunities that they may not already be aware of. Make sure you are not bragging about your CxO friend in a company that’s already your Client’s Vendor / Supplier. I wouldn’t be able to sit up next to you cracking a PJ out of it!
I hope the three things we discussed, are worth a read and prove useful to you!
Thanks to Rick Burke and Simon Parmett for allowing me to work with them and build strong foundations from an excellent Customer Profiling Process they’d built for Business Development at Agile PLM. And many thanks to Amit, Shantanu, Bhargav, Kalyan, Rajesh, Subu and Deepak, my colleagues at AGILE, for their support, who generously mentored me and poured in their SME knowledge that helped me come a long way.