Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hate making the dreaded Cold Calls?

We have all heard the old adage “it is easier to keep a current customer than to find a new one”.  I was reflecting on that this week due to two experiences that we have had in the past year. 

First of all, in compliance with my to-do list, I was following up with a past client who had indicated that they were making some changes in the spring. Her comment struck home when I called and she replied, “I’m so glad you called. You were on my list to call but I have been so busy with…” That says it all. As business owners wearing our sales hats we don’t like to pester other business owners. We know how busy they are and how much we all resent interruptions. But good customer service is all about listening with the intent to understand. By listening well during conversations, we can understand the current and potential situations that make up our clients’ world. We can make notes to call them at a future date and if we have gained their trust in our past transactions with them (see our April 7 post), then those future sales calls will be productive.

Conversely, let’s use the marketing firm that we used last year as a poor example of following up. Last year we hired a local marketing firm to help us with our PR. Our marketing plans were on track except we realized that we were hesitating when it came to our PR and so, as we would advise our clients, we outsourced what we were clearly not good at. That firm proposed a more comprehensive marketing program than we were able to commit to last year, but we explained our situation and settled on the PR work that we wanted as well as some website SEO. The PR firm did get an article published on our business in 2 area papers, but did not accomplish everything that was on the PR plan that they had laid out which included TV spots, radio interviews, and more. Perhaps that is the nature of PR. I don’t know as they did not follow up with us to review their progress. 

What I do know is that once our budgeted dollar amount was spent last October, we never heard from them again! No phone call to find out if we were now in a position to address some of the other areas that they had recommended to us in 2010. No follow up call with us in 2011 to review our situation and marketing needs for this year.  We had simply not heard from them since until a PR article that we submitted ourselves ran in the area newspapers a few weeks ago. We understand that we are a small business and therefore not highly lucrative for them, but we are a few thousand dollars per year and that dollar amount could potentially increase as we grow. This was an example of poor sales work on their part. We actually did have some marketing work to accomplish this year and we sought out a different source.

The moral of this article is:  follow up regularly with your current and past clients in addition to looking for new customers. If you did your job well, you have already earned their trust.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Speed of Trust and Small Business

I had the opportunity earlier this week to attend a webinar hosted by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) of which I am a part. The speaker was Stephen Covey talking on the Speed of Trust. As with everything I study which is intended for global business, I like to ponder how the same concepts can be applied to small business. This topic, in particular, had some very concrete applications especially to others like us who are in service businesses.

One of the main points that Stephen Covey asserts is that trust is more than a social value. Rather it is has an economic impact as well. As trust increases, the speed at which work gets done increases and the cost decreases. According to Covey, trust is a function of 2 things: Credibility and Behavior. He cites 4 Cores of Credibility. The first two, Integrity and Intent are related to whether people trust our character. The second two, Capabilities and Results, are related to whether people trust our competence.

Without understanding the theory that Stephen Covey proposes, I have observed scenarios working with clients where we can accomplish a lot in a short period of time if we are trusted because we are not having to meet continually to explain every step and have everything approved. This increases the speed of our success with clients and therefore reduces their bill. A lower bill makes our services feel even more valuable to our clients and they recommend us to others thus increasing our income. That perfectly describes the Trust Dividend cited in the Speed of Trust.

Applying this to the small business service providers, we can increase the speed at which our clients trust us by:
1. Making sure that our actions speak as loud as our words to our integrity.

2. Declaring our intent. Clients are not going to think that things should be done our way just because we say so. We need to explain the why behind what service we want to do and why it is important to them. This shows them that we are actually looking out for our clients and not just trying to make money off of them.

3. Continually staying on top of the latest changes and trends in our field. For Susan as a CPA and myself as a CMA we are required to complete 30 hours of continuing education each year. Even if that is not required in your field, be sure that you are staying relevant.

4. Making sure that we provide the results that we promised. Deliver our best on time every time. Keep our commitments.

I recommend that people everywhere read Stephen Covey's best selling book The Speed of Trust to gain even more insight on how you can increase your own Speed of Trust within your organization and with all of your stakeholders.