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Wednesday
Jul272011

Energise your Marketplace, your Best Clients, and your Staff

This article was first published in our UK newsletter. Sign up for your copy today, and receive the Shirlaws book More money, More time, Less stress as our welcome gift.

 

Today we talk about Energising your marketplace - understanding what expectations our clients have to prevent costly assumptions, and create a profitable, referring, and enjoyable client base.

We've written before that "Business is all about Expectations." The easiest way to understand this in your business is to look at your Sales process. What expectations do you set? Which do you fail to meet? Which do you deliver against, and how often do you attempt to exceed expectations? And what impact does this have on the energy of the people around you?

The final question is the most important (as the framework below demonstrates). When you meet an expectation you set, it's an energy neutral situation - nobody's really happy or really sad. Fail to meet that expectation, however, and it's a big down arrow. On the flip side, when you meet and then exceed an expectation (by including an unexpected 'extra') there's an up arrow and positive energy all round.

Shirlaws 'Standards and Extras' Framework. (c) 2011

Expectations and their Impact on Energy

This makes sense (and is an easy way to understand your existing relationships, inside and outside the office). But there's a hidden flaw - you see, we all make assumptions for our own benefit, and that means any ambiguity in expectations will create different assumptions in each party.

Imagine you take your car to be serviced at a new dealer, and they provide a free car wash. How does that feel? Up - they've exceeded your expectations. Next time you visit, however, there's no car wash (or they charge you £20). How does that feel? Down - you expected something (the car wash) and it wasn't met. So who is responsible for you feeling down?

It's easy to say it's the Dealer's "fault" for not communicating that the offer was a one-off deal - but, while they could have been clearer, they never told you that you would always get a free car wash.

So does that mean it's your "fault"? Well, you did make the assumption (for your own benefit) that this one-off would always be the case - the poor business owner gave you a free car wash and now you're feeling down about it!

The key lesson is to always be aware that you and your company are setting clear expectations. The exercise below will prove most valuable in rapidly reviewing existing relationships - with clients and with staff - to see where expectations may have fallen over in the past.

Reviewing Expectations in your Business

1) Review your current clients - perfect if you work directly with your clients

Some clients are more energising than others - maybe they're more profitable for you, or they always pay on time, or they refer you great clients, or you simply have interests in common. Thinking about the future of your business - would you like more of these clients, or less (easy question)?

You've probably heard that 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your clients, and certainly this can be tested as an analytical exercise BUT ... it's usually faster, and just as accurate, to run this as a feeling exercise. You can run it like this:


a) Print a list of your current (or, if applicable, recent) clients
b) Against each one, write an Up, Down, or Neutral, depending on how energised you feel by that client. Do this quickly - trust your 'gut feel', don't try to think about it too hard

Use this list to identify those clients where an open conversation may prove valuable. If you're feeling down, ask yourself what expectations has the client failed to provide you? These may be as obvious as late (or non) payment of bills; maybe their business is just not a match for your business (too big, too small, wrong location); or it can even be that they expected too much of you (24 hour availability and immediate responses perhaps?), in which case they may also be feeling let down. Communicate how you are feeling, and why you feel that is, with a view to clarifying both parties' expectations and bringing the relationship back to a neutral level.

Review the Up Arrows. You feel that these clients have given your business an unexpected Extra in the past - have you returned the favour, or are you running the risk that your best clients are feeling neutral or down about you? See the 'Extras' section below for ideas on providing Extras that truly energise these clients.

You can also use this list as the basis for client categorisation, one of only six ways to grow your business. What characteristics do the Up Arrows have in common (eg, average annual spend with you; number of referrals)? What about the Neutrals (who usually make up the bulk of your business)?

And are there characterstics in the Down Arrow list that you can use to change the way you do business with those clients (or possibly refer them elsewhere)?

Client Categorisation is a project that can be particularly profitable, as dealing with fewer Down Arrow clients creates more time to deal with the Up Arrow, more profitable, clients. It's also a project with inherent risks - where building the strategy first, fast-tracked with expert coach support if you choose, will ensure you generate greater energy in the market place rather than creating your own Down Arrow reputation.

2) Energise future clients - perfect for your sales team

Most businesses recognise that some clients take up more of their time than budgeted, and some clients (despite paying you regularly) actually cost you money! During the client acquisition process everything runs wonderfully - and when, at some future point, the client becomes a 'Down Arrow' most businesses focus internally, on what they can do (or should have done) differently. Much like the car wash example, above, focussing internally misses half the relationship.

Do you have an expectations meeting with every new client? While this is more valuable in some industries (professional services, construction) than others (where clients are more transactional), setting expectations at the beginning ensures neither party is making assumptions for their own benefit.

Are you even clear what expectations to set? Again, this can be tricky - you need to cover the important ones (how long it will take you to respond to an email, for instance) while not overwhelming them with minutiae (our documents are printed double-sided with font size 12).

The best way to check what your clients can expect is to review your business's workflow. Every time you interact with a client, you create an expectation - and every time you fail to meet that expectation, the client becomes less likely to refer you to others or use you again.  

3) Understand your Staff - perfect for HR managers and L&D professionals

As with the clients, above, you can print a list of your current team, and against each one note an Up, Down, or Neutral.

Where there are Down Arrows, review what expectations that staff member has not met in the past. Are they even aware that that is an expectation in this business (strict lunch breaks, dishwasher use, and photocopier rules are among the most common complaints our coaches hear, and usually among the easiest to resolve through open conversation)?

If more businesses implemented these Expectation discussions into their Policy & Procedure or Rules & Boundary projects, there would be many more harmonious workplaces. Harmonious, that is, as long as this framework is used to have a conversation - not blame people: remember, we ALL make assumptions for our own benefit.

4) Providing Personalised Extras - perfect for Client Services

Lastly, let's focus on the Neutral to Up Arrow clients and staff. We want to ensure they are as energised in their relationship with our business, as we are to be in relationship with them. The way to achieve that, according to the framework, is to provide extras - exceed their expectations, so they are delighted with us. In doing so, there are two rules / guidelines that can help make this easy:

a) An Extra won't fix a Down Arrow. If the car dealer scratched your new car, a free wash wouldn't make you feel Up. In business, we can't resolve a Down Arrow customer by simply giving them Extras - there's no shortcut for understanding their needs, where you let them down, and (where appropriate) working to meet their standard first. Then you can provide an Extra should you choose.

b) Personalised Extras are the ones that count. If you give everyone of your clients the same thank you gift, it's a Standard - nice, but not especially energising. This is especially true of regular Extras, like Birthday Cards - people begin expecting them as Standard, and you are now investing just to keep things Neutral. Much better to personalise Extras for those clients you truly want to energise - if you have clients you know love cricket, horse racing, and opera respectively, don't send them all tickets to the movies! Show you care - it will repay you.  

You can also apply this exercise with your suppliers, your business partners, your member of Parliament, even your significant other (if you're feeling very bold). Ensure your Standard expectations are understood, and that you do everything you can to provide those Standards - then, and only then, do you create the opportunity to provide a personalised Extra to truly energise the relationship.


At Shirlaws, we 'Love Business' because we know how important, practical and powerful feelings are in every business - even the very big ones we work with. If you haven't met with a coach to discuss how feelings track through the Stages of your business, we recommend that you do - and we'll set the very high expectation that you will be impressed with that meeting.

Call Shirlaws on 0118 366 2013 , email us info@shirlawscoaching.co.uk, or contact your coach directly.

 

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