There’s been considerable coverage over recent days about the disgruntled Goldman Sachs employee who has caused a media storm regarding how he allegedly believes the firm treats its clients.
There are some lessons to be learned here for all of us in the client relationship business that go way beyond Goldman Sachs and the investment banking business.
In a nutshell this is what has happened…
Greg Smith, a London-based manager said he was quitting after 12 years because he could no longer work there ‘in good conscience’. The open letter of resignation has sent shockwaves through the financial industry.
Mr. Smith claimed clients were branded ‘muppets’ and sidelined by senior directors who were more interested in making money (and presumably bigger bonuses) for themselves.
The banker said: ‘I attend meetings where not one single minute is spent asking how we can help clients. It’s purely how we can make the most possible money off them. It makes me ill how callously people talk about ripping off their clients.’
Writing in the New York Times, he added: ‘If you make enough money for the firm, and are not currently an axe murderer, you will be promoted into a position of influence.’
Cleary Greg was a very frustrated employee and angry that the company he joined has changed radically and he believes that it now does not match up to his own standards.
So what can we learn?
1) Modern media, particularly mediums such as Twitter, blogs, rolling news and even e mail (I received several links to this from friends in the first few hours after the story was breaking) now means a disgruntled employee can share their views with a news hungry worlds within minutes.
2) It’s not just unhappy clients that can harm your reputation, your staff can do just as much damage, especially if you are working for a high profile organisation.
3) Management needs to take extreme care when talking about clients within what might seem like the safety of your own offices.
Sure, we all have ups and downs with clients and customers and its only human nature that we will get on with some better than others.
However, particularly junior and middle ranking colleagues look to their client service managers to lead by example and will inevitably start to be disparaging about certain customers if that is the lead being set by those who they report to.
Creating a culture where some clients are referred to in disparaging terms does not help anybody – particularly those who have ultimate responsibility for the business as what will inevitably happen is that your best people will be reluctant to work with that client. The consequence often is creating second rate “ghettos” in the company and is often the first stage of a relationship that is in terminal decline.
Indeed, it’s not what you say about the clients – it also includes how you refer to fellow colleagues and indeed the company itself. Being bitter is not attractive.
4) Be very careful what you put in writing.We seem to be in a culture of whistle-blowers and there are knock on effects of this.
Emails that are often written in a haze of frustration are best not sent. Ask yourself the question – what would I make of this if I was new to the business or indeed an outsider who read this and didn’t know the context?
I have learned from a colleague who has a rule that if he has written something controversial he does not sent it until he re reads it the next morning, having given it what he calls his, “overnight test.”
5) The pace of change is radically reshaping most business. For many staff the organisation is very different from the one they joined. This case highlights the importance of ensuring that as a company changes and evolves the staff are brought along with it and understand the vision/standards that are expected of them.
It’s easy to say but even easier to forget or assume they know and is something that requires constant attention.
6) Ensuring that your vision matches that of your clients.
This story implies that Greg Smith believed that his former employer was more interested in making money at any price with each client.
I worked for many years in the advertising business where some colleagues believed that winning awards for the agency was more important than necessarily selling more of a client’s products. Needless to say those clients did not hang around for long
I’d be fascinated to get your views on this and to see if you think that there are any other lessons to be learned.
As the global economy returns to growth, agency recovery is uneven. In the United States, as the economy seems to be turning around, new business is booming again. In Europe, the picture is less rosy. Irrespective of that, until the global economy is booming again, the single highest priority for any agency should be to focus on keeping hold of existing clients. What I’d like to do here is share some thoughts on not just how to retain them, but also how to grow your business, especially in tough times.
These are lessons learnt from our clients. And for the most part, they’re simplicity itself:
Don’t assume. Know for sure.
They tell us that 70% of client defections are for service reasons, mainly because the agency didn’t deliver the expected quality of service. The moral is clear, you need to pin down precisely what is required. Can you say, hand on heart, that you know what:
- Your client’s goals are?
- Your client expects from you to meet their goals?
- Is critical-to-quality for strategic contribution and creative?
- They think your agency’s strengths are?
- Areas need improvement?
If you don’t ask, they won’t tell. But if you do, it will show that you are in their court.
Prove the impact you’re having on their business.
If you’re unsure of the level of impact you can demonstrate – or whether clients would agree with this assessment – make it your personal mission to get the proof (and the client on board).
Paranoia doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.
Keep tabs on your client. Unknowns can be uncovered by conducting regular, formal client/agency assessments. This should include the opportunity for the client to provide open-ended feedback.
You may find that having a third party conduct the assessment will get you better information than trying to conduct it with your own staff, but whichever route you choose – using internal or external staff – just do it.
Listen, absorb and act
When you discover what’s bothering clients, show them that you’ll act on it – and fast.
Get your team on board, then discuss your plan with the client and get their buy in. Update them regularly on progress, and ask for feedback. This is the chance for you to show that you’ve listened, acted and delivered results.
And if the feedback you uncovered was negative? Well, this will buy you an additional six months to turn things around.
Will this approach work? The results speak for themselves. We know for a fact, that agencies that get the right intelligence and act on it keep their clients. Agencies who assume or don’t act fast enough risk losing their clients.
In the words of late Leslie Nielsen “Good luck. We’re all counting on you.”
Guest Blogger: Adam Turinas, Relationship Audits & Management. If you would like to get in touch, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you think about it, as Client Relationship Managers we are dependent on others within our company to deliver that service. Be it production, IT, HR, marketing, purchasing front of house, and the rest of our internal departments, each one hugely influences service delivery.
Yet, I wonder how much time and effort goes into ensuring that these relationships are really functioning as well as they might beyond the occasional status meeting?
I’d argue that the internal customers are almost as important as the external customers. As one of my clients once said “a company will only buzz on the outside if it’s humming on the inside.”
A great friend of mine has risen rapidly through the ranks in a professional services firm and started his career in the post room before working his way through a number of departments.
He puts a large part of his success down to the fact that he knows how those other business units’ work, the frustrations they have and crucially is seen to be empathic.
But also, and crucially, he’s liked by most of the people he worked with on his way to the top. I asked him if that’s important.
“You bet it is – when I have to ask them to stay late or work a weekend to turn something round I get the feeling they are doing it for me as much as the business.”
“I do my best to continually listen” he added.
That got me thinking…
- Whilst many have staff surveys does anybody proactively look at the dynamics that exist in relationships with key departments?
- Do you or indeed should you have as part of your remit developing and implementing a strategy for excellence with your internal customers?
The benefits would surely be better work which is more efficiently delivered.
It’s happened to all of us. A solid, ongoing client relationship suddenly gets turned on its head when your client tells you she is leaving the company you’ve been working with for years. After cursing, you ponder what will happen. Who will be the new client? Will you keep the business? Still enjoy the relationship? How much effort will this take? What should you do?
While client departures occur regularly we always seem surprised. It’s change after all and it’s usually sudden. And the implications can be significant. Do you have a set process to deal with these situations? Probably not. Maybe the list below can be the start of one for your firm, or you can use it to check against one that does exist. The goal: client retention and a new, healthy client relationship.
Know it’s coming. Most client departures come as a surprise, but should they? If you’ve done your homework on the relationship dynamics in your client’s organization, you should know your client’s influence, job satisfaction and whether she a rising star or on her way out. Essentially, you are trying to assess the risk level of the client relationship. Based on this intelligence there should be a plan in place to address a client’s potential departure. What other relationships need to be established? Who are the up and comers that might take over? How well is your firm and its work known?
Treat it as a new pursuit. Unfortunately, a new client means a new sales effort. Researching the new client’s background is essential, including, for example, knowing what competitors they’ve worked with in the past. Then, there should be a full court press trying to influence the client to keep you as their partner, educating them about your work, as well as developing a solid personal relationship. They need to know your vast knowledge of their company and their industry.
Assess the client’s power. When a new player comes on the client scene it’s good to check whether they are simply taking over from the old client or if there has been a change in the position and organizational structure. Does the new client have more authority and responsibility? Or less? Knowing this impacts how you develop the relationship and whether there are others in the company you need to start paying attention to.
Assess the client’s readiness. A new client can come into their position with a boatload of comparable experience or they might be novices on their way up. Or this might be a lateral move. The key is to understand their skill and will to perform the new job. Have they done this kind of work for years and are just buying time or are they eager beavers looking to make a mark? Understanding client readiness will dictate how you develop the relationship, maybe from a respectful distance or direct and close up.
Prove your value. All of the tactics above need to result in a new client liking you and understanding that the work you’ve performed has been successful for their company. Ultimately, the client should feel that your continued presence is critical for their success.
Make the time. This may seem obvious, but the underpinning for a successful transition from old client to new client is dedicating time and effort. Even though the whirlwind of business activity surrounds you, relationship building, slow and sure, requires a deliberate set of actions and follow through. There are no short cuts here, but the payoff for client retention speaks for itself.
Guest Blogger: Rusty Borkin, Founder of Diver Client Consulting. If you would like to get in touch, please email him at email@example.com
As global leader of several strategic clients for a major international corporation I often wondered what inhibited my own effectiveness. When I made my rounds to the local offices my first question about relationship with the local client always drew the same answer: it is excellent. The only variance was the descriptor used: splendid, couldn’t be better, we love each other, there is nothing to worry about.
Subsequently and when meeting the client more than once a different picture emerged. Why? Had the client just waited for an opportunity to see me and unleash his discomfort? Had he reason to be disloyal? Did he not bother to tell them the truth? Or had my own people suffered from self-delusion?
It didn’t take long to figure out it was the latter in most cases. Each agency person believes that he or she is the best in the business. It’s in their genes. And there is nothing wrong with it because it motivates and drives people to excel. But that gene has one critical dysfunction: it does not allow for self-critique. So self-defense mechanisms set in when mistakes occur.
Don’t get me wrong. Mistakes we all make and someone who doesn’t allow for them to happen will never be a good leader. It matters only how you deal with them. The problem is; when you don’t know your people have made a mistake or when nobody tells you, you will suffer as a leader from the self defence mechanism of your own troops.
In years of studying this phenomenon I have uncovered three fundamental motives for self-defense in this order:
- The problem will disappear by itself
- The problem can be handled alone without involving others
- The client has so many other things to worry about the problem will soon be forgotten
To avoid getting trapped by people’s inability to properly deal with problems or issues I devised my own little routine and found a way of staying in touch with strategic clients without denigrating the role of my local colleagues.
But I wonder whether other people had similar experiences and how they handled it. Incidentally, I do not believe that the problem of self-defence is limited to agencies. It is as universal as the human race.
In a week when love and partnerships are universally celebrated on Valentine’s Day it might seem a bit perverse to look at signs warning you that your relationship with a client or supplier, no matter how durable, is in trouble.
But, painful as it might prove, is it better to make a clean break than limp on in a worsening atmosphere?
A few months ago I spotted an MSN article that focused on 10 telling signs that would suggest your personal relationship is coming to an end. What was interesting is that when you apply these in a slightly different way, they relate to business relationships as well.
So we’ve adapted MSN’s ’10 signs it’s over’ for business to business relationships.
1. You want different things. When talking about strategy you can’t agree on the right direction to take.
2. You fight constantly. In a good relationship the highs should outweigh the lows. A bit of bickering and the odd debate is perfectly healthy. It’s even encouraged if you learn to argue effectively, listening as well as talking. But if, these days, it seems that all you do is nitpick and disagree, it’s time to address why.
3. Things feel too one sided. Does it seem that you’re the only one trying to make this relationship work? Then it’s time to confront your client/supplier and find out why they’re not pulling their weight. A relationship needs two committed parties. If one half isn’t fully invested in the partnership, it will inevitably cause problems.
4. You’re bored. After the honeymoon period, most relationships settle into some kind of comfortable routine. You should never, however, mistake boredom for comfort. If your working relationship no longer results in the occasional spark, it could be a sign of boredom that needs addressing.
5. You’re rarely in touch. Back in the good old days there was a constant dialogue: regular phone calls, texts back and forth, emails detailing new ideas. Of late, however, you’ve started screening calls, ignoring texts. And if your other half does manage to get in touch, you’re filled with a feeling of mild irritation rather than excitement.
6. You just know. Human instinct is a powerful thing. However much you want things to work and no matter how hard you try to push aside feelings of doubt and dismiss the notion that something is wrong, you just know in your gut that some things aren’t working out.
7. You no longer feel respected. Respect is a massively important part of the relationship. Both parties should hold each other in high esteem if it’s to flourish.
8. You’re starting to hate the things you liked about them. You used to laugh at their jokes but now you just find their quips and anecdotes rub you up the wrong way and you’re not sure why.
9. You’ve stopped being intimate. It used to be such fun. You’d even get together with your respective families/partners outside work. But things have cooled lately.
10. You have more fun when you’re apart. Spending time together should lift your spirits and be creatively and commercially productive, not bring you down. That’s a clear sign that something is wrong.
Can you think of any telling signs that could mean a business to business relationship is in trouble? We’d love to hear them.
Ask most clients why they appoint professional or marketing services firms and you can almost guarantee a key factor will be the fact that they are felt to understand the clients business. It’s often this understanding that leads to outstanding work that is effective and right first time.
This is difficult to argue with, yet I’m starting to hear more and more clients complaining that their key partners don’t have enough understanding and empathy in a fast changing world, whilst the Partners and key suppliers often complain they are not kept in the loop enough and lack access to key senior decision makers.
One of my first jobs was to work for an ad agency that had Proctor and Gamble as a key client. My boss said to me “Simon, our job is simple – we (you!) need to understand the brand and their business better than our client.” As challenges go it was one of Olympic proportions but as somebody also once said “if you reach for the stars you don’t get a handful of ****!”
To be honest I don’t think we ever quite totally reached the goal but on many occasions it was a close call, and the key thing was, through this understanding it enabled us to be seen as a trusted advisor who was part of a team that were almost an extension of the clients business.
I recently had the chance to go and meet with the man who runs the massive Coca Cola account for MacDonald’s. What I remember vividly was modern approach to the way we worked with P&G in terms of sharing of data. In this case, the gentleman in question had two laptops on his desk – his own McDonalds one but a second one with real time global sales information to enable quick reaction to issues.
I ask myself, is this knowledge sharing starting to dwindle? I think that apart from the confidentiality issues many clients are less keen to share data because often it’s not used or they don’t see a benefit.
When it is, it can have a big impact as I found out recently when speaking to a client of a data hungry law firm who chase for information and then proactively produce analysis and insight that not only adds value to the relationship but makes their client a star in their company.
Personally, I believe it’s vital to get close to the clients business, both from an external as well as understanding what’s going on inside. The one thing you can guarantee is that all areas are going through constant change.
Furthermore, if you are working for any client you have to have a genuine desire to understand. Not surprisingly most clients can see if you are faking it.
When we discuss what can be done to further understand a client’s business the most common response is “why don’t they just ask?” Indeed, from research we conducted last year indicated that key suppliers / partners don’t regularly ask their clients “how’s business?”
Yet of course, there are some clients who don’t make it easy for you to reach out to them, be it being unavailable, not willing to share data or sometimes basic information.
So I need to ask for your advice – what would you suggest as ideas for getting closer to clients who are unwilling to meet with you or share the information you need?
A well-known Agency Business principle: Clients are won on creativity and lost on service. Right. But this “poor service” concept has many dimensions and degrees of seriousness. Let me describe the absolute sin, the most effective way to lose a client.
We are 2 days before a major agency presentation on a very important brief received weeks before. After already a few meetings, it is clear that the agency has shown real difficulties to deliver good creative work.
It is 11:30 pm in your office. The floor is covered with roughs, scripts, scribbled pieces of copy. Everybody is exhausted, but let’s be clear: you are in trouble.
All that you have is rather poor work, boring, or complicated, or déjà vu, or highly creative but strategically quite irrelevant, and more importantly doesn’t solve much of client’s problem.
Therefore you have a choice:
- You call your client the morning after to postpone the meeting, saying for instance that what you have to show is “interesting”, with “promising routes” but that current work as it is today is not “good enough for him” and that you need one more week to “double check and optimize”. He won’t be happy, but very probably he will accept to give you more time, in his own interest. And miracles can happen in one week in this business.
- You do not resist any longer the very high pressure put on you by the frustrated creative team to try to sell “route 4” proposal, as it is “good enough”, or may be “good for the agency book”, but it will “allow everybody to move on to something else.” Exhausted, frustrated too, or simply lost, you finally accept to recommend it through a very well prepared presentation that you will deliver with maximum conviction. Finally, this route is not so bad… and you have talent when you sell.
Guess what happens: your client realizes that you, the agency guy he had respect for, his business partner, the one he was TRUSTING, is trying to sell him crappy work, which very strongly demonstrates that not only you lie, but moreover that you take your client for a fool.
Extremely effective strategy. Three months later, the account is under review.
I’ve seen so many books over the years which offer foolproof ways to win pitches. But in our win/loss audit programme we have repeatedly come across examples of ways in which a supplier has shot themselves in the foot, managing successfully to do a host of things that are really the opposite of best practice.
So we thought it might be instructive to share our top ten (in no particular order) for your interest. When you consider how important every single piece of business is in this climate, it still amazes me how some suppliers seem to go out of their way to mess things up.
Here are ten of the best ways to go about it:
- Avoid any meetings between the first briefing and the final pitch, working on the basis that everything will hinge on that final meeting.
- Don’t bother to find out who’s involved in the final decisions.
- Don’t research the backgrounds and experience of the client team individuals involved in the pitch.
- Don’t challenge the brief (if you need clarification) until the day of the final pitch meeting.
- Expose your own ‘better’ brief to the client with his/her teams and preferably boss on the day of the pitch.
- Ignore the budget constraints and demonstrate this in your choice of solutions.
- Steadfastly refuse to get up to speed on the client’s business.
- Bring as many people to the final meeting as you can to outnumber the client—and make sure the team is constructed of people who don’t get on with each other.
- Promise the prospect that they will have loads of the chief executive/chairman’s time spent on the business.
- Forget about checking out beforehand the room you are going to be presenting in and, most of all, don’t bring back-ups in case the technology fails.
I’m sure you have more. Let’s hear them!
For most of us, walking into a room full of strangers can be like attempting a bungee jump – daunting to say the least.
Indeed, I believe that for many of us, the tried and tested techniques of ‘cold’ telephone calls for developing new business are significantly less effective and the ability to network face-to-face is one of the most productive means of developing existing business or opening up new channels.
Very often the opportunities that present themselves are conferences and events where we are thrown into a room of strangers.
So I read with interest a recent interview with a newly-appointed ‘visiting professor of networking’ at a prominent London business school — said to be the first such appointment of its kind anywhere in the world.
It got me thinking – in an age of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – about the value of good old- fashioned networking face-to-face.
As the new professor, Julia Hobsbawn, argues, “Face-to-face contact is much more important in the ‘Facebook Age’ because technology can create isolation despite its many benefits. Trust is the biggest single asset a person can have and face-to-face contact provides this better than any other form of engagement. “
She offers a few valuable tips:
- Choose face-to-face over Facebook
- Eye contact matters
- Ask ‘How are you?’ rather than ‘Who are you?’
- Be curious
From my own perspective, if I’m going to a conference or meeting I’ll always try and find out who is going to be attending and identifying the key people I’d like to meet.
Linkedin profiles are always handy, especially pictures of the people, their career background and looking at the groups they belong to can be useful. The key is finding common points of interest be they professional or personal such as sports teams.
I still remember what one of the best sales people I’ve worked with told me “when meeting a new prospect always have two or three questions to ask them that show know or have researched their market or business.”
I’d be really interested to know your thoughts on face-to-face networking and whether you have any tried and tested ice-breaking phrases to introduce yourself?
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