How to Please Big Clients

We have been struggling on the big accounts — not understanding their needs well enough, not profitable enough, not on time and coming in over budget sometimes. Big clients aren’t especially happy with us these days. How do I prevent this from seriously damaging our business?

Thoughts of the day: Correctly diagnosing the situation is crucial. Symptoms often show up internally as the producing company notices problems before the recipient buyer sees them. There are real dollars attached to ensuring customers are satisfied.

Make sure to follow these rules for diagnosing the situation. When clients speak, hear them out, as you listen in order to understand, not to rebut. Restate what you heard in order to verify understanding. Ask clients who don’t say much to give you feedback and reassure them that negative feedback is as welcome as positive feedback. Get to work on permanent solutions.

Sometimes the most obvious question is the one that delivers the most actionable information. Ask clients what it would take to make them happy. Just because clients ask for something, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea for your company. Set aside time to figure out if you can deliver what they’re asking for or not. Vend out or refer out things that you’re asked to do that don’t make sense for your company.

When your staff tells you there’s a problem with a client, pay attention. Often your people will know that something is wrong long before the client identifies an issue. Look for themes and one-offs: Is the current issue similar to other situations you’ve encountered, or is it unique? Prioritize fixing the repetitive issues. Occasionally look at the unique issues for opportunity to take the business in a new direction.

Always question the source of the problem. Did the issue crop up because of who was buying, how it was sold or the way the solution was delivered? Think through whether this client should have bought from you or whether the solution was oversold. Or, was there a problem delivering something your company produces regularly and should have done a better job of delivering this time.

When looking to expand, remember to sell new products to existing customers. You can trade on a long-standing positive relationship. Existing customers who know and respect the work of your company are more likely to cut you a break if things don’t go well. On the other hand, existing customers may get tired of the same old product and look for new innovations. Keep the relationship fresh with additional offers that will help to keep that client coming back for more.

Use existing products to lure in new groups of clients. Figure out who else might want what your company has to offer. Start off new clients with a strong relationship because you’re offering a product or service that’s well tested and proven.

One researcher, looking at a Fortune 100 company, equated a 1 percent increase in satisfaction to $13 million in increased service contracts. That’s powerful. While your numbers might be smaller, it’s important that everyone in your company understands the link between satisfied clients and continued revenue flow to pay the bills, including everyone’s salary and benefits.

When looking to ensure customer satisfaction, look for consistent holes. Decide if it’s due to a lack of management and oversight, lack of proper planning as to how work will be handled or lack of production skill, quality materials and deliverability. Tackle the problems now, rather than avoiding them, by forming a team of people to work on diagnosing and solving the problems at hand. Make satisfying customers everyone’s job.

Keep in mind that the bigger the client, the bigger the opportunity and the bigger the risk if things don’t go well. Big clients can help your company grow as long as their needs and yours are well-aligned. Make sure the clients you’re struggling with aren’t predators looking to pick apart your company for all it’s worth before moving on to do it to someone else. Instead, look for big clients you can partner and align with to help you and them succeed because of mutual interest and goodwill.

Looking for a good book? Check out… Managing Customer Relationships: A Strategic Framework by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers.


If Employees Aren’t Listening, Reflect on Leadership

Worried that people who should be listening to me, aren’t listening to me. Think about my employees, and ask myself, “If they’re not going to listen to their boss, who are they going to listen to?” How can I keep from getting pushed out of the way?

Thoughts of the Day: Take a look around you. Make time to think about what you want, and whether the habits of communicating are getting you there. Figure out how you can get better at communicating. Lower your perception of the consequences if things go wrong. Think before you speak. Plant seeds.

Is it really just you who’s being ignored, or are others having the same problem? Is it all employees, or just some? Is it the same employee over and over, or different employees at different times? Is it all the time, or just some of the time?

Figure out the conditions under which you observe that you aren’t being heard. Compare that to your observations about what others experience under similar conditions. Do a reality check on who, when, what, and how people go their own way without dialing in to you.

Then ask some questions. Are they attempting to spread their wings, trying to fly solo with new skills they’ve acquired? Are they repeating a habitual way of behaving with you – as in, they always dial you out? Or is it somewhere in between?

Now do a reality check. What happens if specific people do or don’t listen to you? Do they get better results with, or without your input? Or do they come out about the same either way? Do they get enough value from your input that they can achieve higher level outcomes? Are you making requests that make their life easier or harder? Try looking at it from the receiver’s viewpoint.

Time for a bit of self-reflection. How do you come across as a leader? Are you positively motivated, and are you positively motivating the people around you? Can you inspire confidence?

Think about this. If you’re not ready to empower yourself to achieve success, how will you impart that to others? On the other hand, if you’re leading and no one is following, why is the whole group following a different path? What is it about how you’re coming across?

Can you take as good as you dish it out? If someone isn’t listening to you, ask them why. But be prepared to hear some things that might make you uncomfortable. Listen without defense in order to learn.

What in your style of presentation is irritating people or pushing them away. It often comes down to what you say and how you say it. Is it all about getting what you want? What gets in the way of perceiving or responding to what the person across from you needs?

Negative approaches tend to generate negative responses, and vice versa for positive ones. Keep doom and gloom to a minimum – it’s neither inspiring nor motivating. Instead, search for purpose. Put people on a mission.

Give people a visual of how things might turn out. Make sure it’s one that they’d actually want to achieve. Make it something worth having, something worth reaching for, from theirs, not your, point of view. To do that, you’re actually going to have to invest some time figuring out where the other person is coming from.

Remind yourself that it takes a village to build well rounded solutions. Plant seeds. Ask for small changes. Encourage behaviors you want to see continue by saying, “thank you, I appreciate that.” Talk honestly about problems, but also build people up by showing them how changes they are making lead to a better world. Take time out to celebrate wins – more than the time spent moaning over losses – a lot more.

Looking for a good book? Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, by Simon Sinek.