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.
Situation: A company serves a market with a lot of new small entrants. Clients purchase from these other companies as well as the CEO’s company. They are continuing to call and network with their client base to retain clients and build new customers. What else should they be doing? How do you deal with cut-throat competition?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make a list of those clients who are no longer purchasing from you or referring new clients. Go talk to them. Ask why they are no longer purchasing from you or referring new clients. This may open new options. You may find something new or unexpected that you can offer.
Work with an outside service to follow up with on clients lost and won. The key question for them to ask clients is why. Learn from the responses what is most important about the clients’ purchase and referral decisions.
Consider a new service. A health/happiness outcome would be a nice value-add: a quarterly report back to referral sources on how happy the clients that they referred are. The last question on the survey should be – Would you work with our firm again? Why or why not?
Consider using an outside source to gather the data for these surveys. To get more valuable responses, don’t just ask about your company, but also several of your top competitors; this will produce a richer set of responses.
There are two ways to compete: either you are low cost or have established a unique value proposition. Whatever this is, sustainability of your critical point of differentiation is essential.
Health care legislation is now in flux. Whatever the outcome, it will have an impact on your market. Become an expert resource on the implications of various outcomes.
Look at social media resources – feed valuable information to your audience via blog.
Situation: A CEO wants to build a new bonus program for the company’s professional services team. He wants to include a customer satisfaction component, because the group is historically weak in this area. Does it make sense to have a different bonus plan for professional services personnel and managers than for product development personnel and managers? Can bonus plans differ between departments?
Advice from the CEOs:
Many companies have different bonus structures for different departments. This is natural because different departments have different functions. For example, Sales may evaluated for bonuses based on a combination of revenue and gross margin achievement, while Finance is evaluated on profitability and Product Development is evaluated on hitting product launch schedules and new product sales.
Changing bonus structures can be a sensitive matter. If the team impacted is not included in the process of drafting the new plan, changes may be perceived as negative. If this is the case, it’s better to frame the new program so that you limit your commitment to it to just one year, and let the team know that this may change this next year.
How do you go about including customer satisfaction surveys as a component of bonus calculation?
If you want to use customer satisfaction as part of the plan, benchmark customer service satisfaction before you launch the plan. If you don’t benchmark, how do you know whether performance improves?
Survey response rates will be an issue – you won’t get 100% and may get a survey response rate of 10% or worse. Be prepared for this and make sure that data with a low response rate will support your objectives.
A survey is a lagging metric. If you can find a measurable leading metric to use as well this is better.
Be careful of how the survey is drafted and who conducts it. Both can bias results.
As an alternative to making customer satisfaction part of a bonus plan, consider starting a customer satisfaction or loyalty program. The most important question to ask will be: would you recommend us to your peers? Any low response guarantees a follow-up call from the company.
Situation: A small company wants to land one additional large account per quarter. They utilize an array of marketing activities but aren’t sure where to concentrate their efforts. From your experience, how do you identify and land your next big customer?
Advice from the CEOs:
Landing large accounts is more of a relationship game than a marketing game. Develop a list of targets. Determine who you want to approach as the key decision maker, and work your own network and those of friends to gain a personal introduction.
If you and your principal target customers have operations overseas try to develop relationships between your and their overseas managers. Social networks abroad can be more accessible than in the US.
If you plan to introduce a new product or service, ask current customers whether they know of anyone who might be interested. This can prompt their interest or get you a significant lead.
Once you identify potential targets, conduct third party surveys of their industries. These can yield valuable insights into your targets’ organization and needs and help you better position your offering.
If a target customer has multiple divisions, initiate a relationship with a single division first and then leverage this relationship to develop additional business across the company. A number of small companies have figured out how to do business with multiple divisions of a single large company.
Trade shows are underutilized by many companies. Schedule meetings with target contacts In advance of the show. Even a simple visit to their booth can lead to a significant meeting. If you have limited resources, simply register as an attendee and use the show to network with potential customers.
Situation: A membership association’s revenue is largely tied to its annual conference. The primary sponsor of the conference has decided to host their own annual conference. This will disrupt the association’s access to both conference attendees and vendors. The sponsor has offered terms of collaboration; however, the conditions are unfavorable to the association. What are the best alternatives available to the association and how should they pursue them?
Advice from the CEOs:
Are the association’s mission and vision are tied to or independent of the sponsor? If there is an ongoing reason for the association to continue without the sponsor then it is reasonable to pursue alternatives.
There are at least two options available to the association:
Accept the partner’s offer of collaboration, provided that this can be done under conditions that will allow the association to survive short-term. If the partner stumbles hosting its own conference this may allow the association to recover ownership of the annual conference. The danger is that this may lead to a slow death if the sponsor further cuts revenue to the association or a fast death if the sponsor decides to abandon the association.
Shift the focus of the conference and ancillary services under a new branding scheme. A survey of the membership indicates that the majority favor a mixed-platform solution, and may welcome a mixed-platform approach. You may need to rethink and rework your model but this may offer the best chance for ongoing survival.
What steps should be taken to pursue the second option?
Conduct a second survey of the membership to evaluate their preferences on platform focus, what they want to see in a multi-platform conference, and what platforms should be included.
Shift focus of the association to multi-platform as a response to members’ priorities and desires. Court the majority of the membership that favor a mixed-platform focus and de-emphasize those who favor the single platform solution.
Develop an alternate roster of sponsors including all competitive platforms. If this model succeeds, your current primary sponsor may find participation imperative.
Situation: The business climate is starting to improve. Opportunities are coming in. How do you decide what to do and what not to do?
Advice from the CEOs:
Talk to your customers. What do they value about your product/service and what is less valuable? Build on opportunities that customers value – which are consistent with your company’s strength and focus.
Consider a customer survey – Survey Monkey or a telephone.
If you don’t have in-house expertise to design and administer a survey, find knowledgeable outside resources.
Make sure that the survey questions will drive understanding of your focus.
If you are short of cash, at least get an expert to review the survey and administration plan.
Before you launch the survey to your full customer base, “test” it with a select group of customers – this will tell you whether it will produce usable information. If not, rewrite.
Have employees take the survey and predict how customers will respond. Compare these results with the actual results from customers. You may learn something!
Which opportunities will build sustainable recurring revenue vs. opportunistic (one-time) revenue?
Recurring revenue can be lower margin if the income stream is sustainable.
Balance efficiency and utilization. For example, fixed fee service contracts that renew consistently.
Judge opportunities against your “Hedgehog” as defined by Jim Collins in Good to Great:
What you are passionate about?
What you can be best at in your marketplace?
What you can measure by a single economic ratio?
Key Words: Customer Needs, Customer Survey, Business Opportunities