Tag Archives: Relationship

What’s the Right Model for a Service Company? Four Points

Situation: The President of a professional service company and his team are considering adjustments to their business model. The alternatives under consideration are a client-centered model and a service delivery model. What’s the right model for a service company?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the client-centered model, the emphasis is on maintenance of the customer relationship by the responsible manager, with support from the group to optimize service delivery.
    • Consider the service being provided and the client’s expectations. Does the client want to have a principal point of contact – a client manager – to address their needs?
    • This model centers on the key manager creating and maintaining an ongoing relationship with the customer, including rapid response to inquiries from the customer.
  • In the service delivery model, the emphasis is on a developing and maintaining a high standard of service delivery so that multiple individuals can deliver the service rapidly and reliably.
    • As in the client-centered model, consider the service being provided and the client’s expectations. Is the customer’s principle concern functionally rather than personally oriented – for example keeping a system up and running in the fastest time with a manageable expense? In this case, the individual technician is not as important as speed of response and assurance of a quality outcome.
    • The service delivery model centers on standardized and predictable delivery of a defined service, with high responsiveness to the client’s needs. Those who deliver the service are paid variably based on their skills and assigned to deliver service consistent with their abilities. A benefit of this model is that business maintenance is not as dependent on individual service providers as the client-centered model.
  • In choosing between these models, it is important to speak with your clients and to understand their needs and priorities. Is your model a direct business to customer relationship or a business to business relationship? Is your offering perceived by the customer as a service or a product with tangible results? Is your customer more interested in meeting short-term needs or developing a long-term relationship?
  • As an example, is the customer expecting a personal, customized service and desirous of maintaining a long-term relationship? For this, a Nordstrom-like model may make the most sense – a highly personalized level of service where the relationship managers on the sales floor keep detailed records of individual customer’s tastes and past purchases and will even have items pre-selected prior to the customer’s arrival at the store.
    • This model implies that the most important assets to client development and retention will be your account managers. A business development manager may bring in a new client and then hand off that client to “one of my best managers” who will develop the long-term client relationship. The account manager will become the principal point of contact for the client; however, they will bring in other expertise or assistance to handle specific client needs. When a customer calls in, depending on the immediate need, that customer may be triaged directly to their manager or to an individual who could, for example, perform a transaction for them. Responsiveness by the manager within a defined time frame will be an important metric to monitor.

How Do You Maintain Your Culture as You Grow? Five Thoughts

Situation: A professional services company wants to grow while maintaining the small company atmosphere that has been the key to its success. There is a limit to how many clients a manager can manage, and with this the reality that if the firm is to grow they will have to bring on more client managers and support personnel. How do you maintain your culture as you grow?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • To maintain your boutique atmosphere, consider hiring to fit your needs rather than to maintain a culture. Use team meetings to direct team members while communicating and instilling the culture that you wish to maintain.
  • Don’t risk diluting the strength of your client relationships. A $250K client who is fully committed to your service may have more demands than a $1M client for whom you only represent 10% of their business.
  • Service companies with the highest profit ratios rotate customer contact among several qualified people. What matters is the level of service provided, not the individual providing the service.
  • Grow by adding locations. Instead of growing vertically in the same office, grow modularly by spawning additional offices.
    • Create an optimally sized model for the level of service that you wish to deliver.
    • Design the organizational structure for this model and identify the order in which slots will be filled as business grows through each office.
    • Develop a service and organizational template with standard operating procedures, metrics, technology, and reporting.
    • Once the model is created, spawn it.
  • Focus your business. Define a niche that you can serve better than your competitors. Focus on this niche and develop a sustainable advantage over your competition.
    • Assure that your service delivery is seamless to the client and make sure that it remains seamless.
    • Offer a menu of service options and price options by the level of service delivered. Some will want to buy a Mercedes, and some will be happy with a reliable lower priced sedan.

How Do You Plan for Market Evolution? Three Suggestions

Situation: A tech company competes in a rapidly changing marketplace. The companies they serve constantly evolve their platforms. The company must respond rapidly to assure compatibility with both hardware and software innovations. Users adapt to new platforms at different rates, and the company must address their needs, as well. With so much time spent tending these diverse needs, how do they plan for market evolution?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • In the market you serve you must constantly reinvent yourselves as technology changes. Some platforms make changes on a 5-year cycle, while mobile platforms are currently on a 6-month cycle. This may force choices as to which platforms to serve. You also may want to focus on platforms where what you bring to the table is most useful.
  • You have made the strategic choice to tie the future of your company to a few large companies that dominate their markets. It is imperative that you cultivate close relationships with the technology as well as strategic leadership of those companies. This will give you more advanced insight into their plans, and they may even involve you in discussions about how the market evolves. If so, you will have positioned yourself for that evolution. These relationships may also become your exit strategy.
  • Businesses run on cash, or access to cash. As you cultivate relationships with your key customer companies, look for opportunities to invest in developing markets on a subscription basis which will provide ongoing annuity revenue. Figuring out how to leverage advertising or positioning options into your offering offers an additional revenue stream.

How Do You Manage Residual Commissions? Three Thoughts

Situation: A CEO is renegotiating the company’s agreement with a sales person. The sales person wants a declining residual commission on sales from past customers, regardless of who is servicing the account. A consultant who knows the industry advises the CEO to focus on new sales. What are the implications of each choice? How do you manage residual commissions?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • There are two types of salespeople: Hunters and Farmers.
    • Hunters focus on new business and generally get paid first year, then in later years only on sales that come specifically through their efforts.
    • Farmers focus on ongoing relationships with existing customers and are the service people for those customers. If they are paid commissions, they get paid on the ongoing sales that result directly from their efforts.
  • It is rare to find a salesperson who can manage both of these roles well, so companies often divide responsibilities, and any commissions paid, according to responsibility.
  • Decide what behavior you want from your sales person and pay for this – make the distinction between hunting and farming. Then ask the sales person which they want to be. If they say “both,” challenge this and let them know that they need to make a choice.

How Do You Market to Company Insiders? Three Suggestions

Situation: The key to a career development company’s growth, historically, is leveraging relationships with insiders in potential client companies who know the needs of their own companies. The key benefits to these people are access to good people, no recruiting fees and feeling good about the experience. What is the marketing message to this group? How do you market to company insiders?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Ask them. You already have a number of company insiders who work with you. Develop a detailed survey to query what they see as the key benefits of working with your company, and which of these benefits are most important to them.
    • Consider a broad quantitative survey that you can administer via the web.
    • Complement this with a smaller in-depth interview survey to understand qualitatively how they benefit from their relationship with your company and the service that you provide.
  • Your equity is the experience that these people enjoy when they work with you – this is your leverage.
  • Your pitch is emotionally oriented. Stick with this. Saving recruiting fees will not be as important given your focus and the company insiders that you are likely to attract.

How Do You Assure Consist Reliable Service? Six Solutions

Situation:  A company has remote employees who are on a wide variety of schedules. Retaining great employees is a challenge, and with this consistent service due to turn-over. How do they improve the relationships that they have with remote employees? How do you assure consistent reliable service?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Guarantee employee income for a period after they lose a client and as you seek another assignment for them. Limit your exposure by setting hurdles – an employee must have served the company for X time to qualify for this benefit.
  • Create your own “down time” bank. Say you pay an employee $10. Give them $9 and put $1 into a bank so that you can pay them once they lose their current client. The fact that their bank is limited to the amount of these contributions creates an incentive not to draw down the bank.
  • Offer a paid day off per month of service.
  • How do you shift your business from commodity to specialty, as a value add business?
    • What Peace of Mind features could you provide to your clients to create added value and stickiness? For example, can you provide a portal into your system so that clients can access information on the services that you’ve provided, or enhance their ability to communicate with their own clients? What about access to time schedules, account notes, etc.
    • Look for a solution that will shift the industry.
    • Look at menu driven packaging and pricing options. Examples include discount pricing for purchase volume commitments or iPads for a significant level of investment.

How Do You Test a New Service Delivery Model? Seven Thoughts

Situation: A company targets mid-sized clients with pricing that is similar to its competitors. They believe that their principal differentiation is their relationship with their clients. The problem is that this is also what all of their competitors claim. They are considering testing a new pricing concept – a monthly fixed fee that will provide a pre-negotiated set of services at a favorable discount, with a weekly presence in their clients’ offices. How to you test a new service delivery model?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • This looks like an appealing concept. With this arrangement there is no clock ticking and the client may view your various services as a more open menu of options available to them.
  • Another company has a similar relationship with their CPA firm and have both enjoyed this and are using more services from this firm.
  • Just a regular presence in the office is worth the retainer.
  • Another appeal is that this allows regular participation in management and Board meetings.
  • Another CEO offers a similar program for her professional service company’s clients and have found it successful.
  • Since there appears to be strong support for this model within the group, what is the best way to implement this new offer?
    • Negotiate an initial monthly rate for a set level of services as a retainer without a clock.
    • Agree to a periodic review and adjustment of services and pricing – perhaps quarterly – based on the time and services that have been provided during the preceding period.
  • How do you sell this program to those within your own company who are skeptical?
    • Try the program with three clients on a limited trial basis and measure it.

Is It Time to Raise Prices? Six Suggestions

Situation: A company will be losing a client in the near future. However, the client is still buying from the company as sole source supplier while they develop alternate suppliers. Should the company raise prices, and if so by how much? Is it timely to raise prices?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • A factor in this decision will be your history of raising prices in the past. If you have increased prices to keep pace with inflation and your costs, look at the frequency and magnitude of these increases. Provided that the increase that you are considering is not out of line with past practice, it should not come as a surprise to your client. If you have not raises prices in the past, be prepared for push-back.
  • However you decide, be sure to maintain the relationship. You have a long relationship with this client and you never know what their future needs will be. As to the amount of the price increase, if they are reducing the volume of their purchases, you can raise your prices by 10-20% based on the loss of volume to cover your overhead.
  • Be prepared with logical arguments to explain the price increase to the client.
  • If your discussions with the client’s representative have become tense, it may be better to have someone else within your company lead this discussion. It’s OK to tie the emotional component – having to lay-off employees, etc, – into your story.
  • If you have an advocate within the client company, involve them in the discussion and give your advocate the ammunition that they need to support your case.
  • Adjust your staff and costs to fit the new reality.

Is It Time To Change Horses? Four Suggestions

Situation: A company has a business relationship with another firm. The relationship involves co-development of technology as well as marketing and other support. Portions of the relationship have worked, however, the other firm has not kept its part of the bargain in terms of marketing and support promised. What is the best way to approach the other firm to resolve this situation? Is it time to change horses?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Have you have clearly communicated to the firm both what you are pleased with about the relationship as well as your level of dissatisfaction regarding lack of marketing and other support promise? To whom has this been communicated? Are you sure that your message has gone all of the way to the top?
  • Do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis on the current arrangement and alternatives available to you to support your trade-off analysis before taking action.
  • Present a marketing option that will address the situation and ask whether the firm will support it as previously agreed.
    • If they say yes, have a contract ready for them to sign.
    • Negotiate other key items at same time.
    • Be sure to involve all parties on your side in the preparation, including the individual(s) who made the introductions that led to the relationship. Additional heads can bring more insight into the options that the firm and relationship offers. Bring the key parties involved to the negotiation, and be sure to prep them in advance.
  • Business relationships should be based on clearly stated deliverables and timelines. If deliverables are missed then it is time to make a business decision – either repair the situation or part ways.

How Do You Assess the Value of a Consultant? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company has relationship with a consultant. The consultant has approached the company for additional work with a higher dollar value. How do you assess the value of the services that are being offered? How do you assess the value of a consultant?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Consulting is a competitive market. Look at the work being offered and tell the consultant that while you appreciate the value of her services and the relationship that she has with the company, you want to talk to others to understand the market rate for the additional services being offered.
  • Are consultants or contractors really much different from employees? How do you determine value when you are hiring? You determine this based on skills and market pay rate for skills. You’ll need to some homework to determine appropriate rates, but otherwise do the same here.
  • Look at your budget and upcoming expenses. If the proposed work is more important than other planned expenses, decide on a dollar figure and tell the consultant that this is what you’re willing to spend. If the consultant can convincingly pitch a higher value, you’ll listen.
  • Is the relationship with the consultant important to you? Is the proposed work important? If both are the case, sit down with the consultant and help them to craft a better offer.