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Setting Client Expectations

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You’re talking to a prospective client. How would you present the work your company does? What might you say about your company’s productive efficiency. How responsive are you to client needs? What would you say about the professionalism of your staff? How important is corporate responsibility?

We’d guess our readers always answer these questions exactly to same way, even if talking to their BFF at their favorite bar and after a drink or three. But for others, there may be glaring discrepancies between some of the answers in first scenario and those in a relaxed, non-selling situation. If that’s the case, it’s reasonable to worry that somebody’s business is off to a bad start managing client expectations.

We know the temptation to oversell. A good company that provides a worthwhile product or service and operated by a competent staff of decent people can suddenly become a socially crusading, budding Amazon, led by super heroes (but with a gentle, caring touch) and providing a better ROI opportunity than the ground floor investment in Microsoft.

Okay, that might be a little hyperbolic, but few prospective clients come away from a sales pitch expecting to frequently hear the word “no” to future requests. And when there has been too much “gilding the lily,” someone is not going to be happy. Interestingly, that someone is often the business owner and her or his staff.

Unless a company is run by true rip-off artists, most clients can walk away from bad business relationships having merely lost a little time and not quite getting what they thought their money was worth. More often, the real suffering comes to the other side of the equation as businesspeople take on unprofitable jobs that require excessive workloads. The probable outcome is a painful, ultimately fruitless attempt to hang on to a difficult client.

So how does one prevent (or handle) this predicament? Well, here are our thoughts:

  • Appreciate your own worth. For contractors and others in professional services industries there can be a tendency to take on work for too low a fee because “something is better than nothing.” Often this is accompanied with the rationalization that one can raise rates later. (Why would a client agree to that?) It can be same with willingness to accommodate abnormal business hours. Make your standard prices understood upfront and don’t give the impression that you’re anyone’s indentured servant.
  • Lead with your value proposition. You’re not exceptional at everything, because no one is exceptional at everything. If someone claims to be, you know they’re lying. When selling, make your top value proposition clear to the prospect and be realistic about other aspects of your business. Don’t be afraid; a strong value proposition should appeal to a lot of clients, and others may like enough of everything else they hear to give you a fair trial. You can’t win them all, and you don’t want to lose by “winning.”
  • Listen to what your client is saying. Rarely do prospective clients hide what’s important to them. In fact, they usually mention it quite often, especially if they’ve been previously disappointed. If their demands have been a problem for others in your line of work, they might be a challenge to you as well. Carefully and thoughtfully evaluate what prospects want and let them know where you can, and where you might not, meet their expectations.
  • Lower the bar. We joke and say that every client wants everything yesterday, but thankfully that’s not (always) true. People may be quite reasonable in their expectations—they simply don’t want to be disappointed. What if you made your costs estimates a little higher than you truly anticipate and your set deadlines a little further out than you think necessary. Then you could watch your client’s delighted reaction when you can charge less than you initially said and you get the work done faster than promised!
  • Play up the client success stories that you’d want to repeat. Testimonials and case studies make for excellent sales collateral, but be careful about how you present these stories to prospects. When you go far above and beyond the call of duty for a client, perhaps you should keep the specifics to yourself and share the client’s appreciation in a brief testimonial. And when you’ve done a great job following your normal procedures, that’s the time to go into the details with a lengthier case study.
  • If you’re having trouble competing, look for the cause and make changes. Suppose you’re regularly disappointing your clients while killing yourself and your employees, AND losing money for your trouble. Then you notice your competition seems to be doing fine. It’s time for some research. Try to figure out what advantages your competitors have and see how you can even things up. If the advantages are inherent (like a better location) find out how others in your situation have coped and emulate them. Be prepared to change your marketing strategies to better attract the available audience, rather than continuing to push the same old boulder up the mountain.
  • Be willing to give up. You may have heard the saying, “Winners never quit and quitters never win,” but we have another one: “He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.” Some jobs and/or clients are simply not worth the effort and never will be. Don’t run yourself or your business into the ground trying to make something happen that can’t. After you’ve done your best but simply can’t make an arrangement work for everyone, thank the impossible client for the opportunity and bid them a fond farewell.

As Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations” … and so does his (or her) client.

The Six Stages of Super-Client Development

customer relationship business development_newsPicture a great client. He or she will have been buying from you for quite a while. They make purchases on a regular basis. They appreciate the work you do and they respect your expertise. And the best part is that they recommend your business to their friends, family and business associates.

Do you have a lot of clients like this? Do you have any? If you’re short on the number of super-clients in your client base, it may not be a reflection on the value of goods or services you provide. In fact, the opposite could be true. Maybe you put so much effort in being the best at what you do, that you’re neglecting the customer-development stage of your business. After all, you don’t just find great customers hidden like Easter eggs. They must be created—by you. It’s a process that takes planning, dedication and time.

There are six stages to creating a committed client:

  • Create awareness of your brand – Yes, this is basic but we’ve got to start somewhere. Besides, it’s impossible to have more great clients than people who’ve ever heard of your business, so maximize the foundation of your client base through marketing (i.e. PR, social media, digital advertising, direct marketing … etc.). Not every promotional vehicle is effective for every business type and there are a lot of factors to consider (that’s where agencies like Pinstripe Marketing come in!) but you must let people know your company exists, one way or another.
  • Get your target audience interested in your products/services – Congratulations! Some prospective clients have heard of your business! Unfortunately, they have probably heard of your competitors as well. Now you have to help them understand why your products or services are better than those they can get elsewhere. You do this with a consistent brand message based on value propositions to the customer by utilizing marketing vehicles tailored to your business and audience.
  • Do some convincing – After the first couple of stages, you may have landed a few clients, but you want more, don’t you? Now’s the time to back up the value claims you’ve made with blogs, testimonials, case studies and white papers. You might even show off your confidence by inviting customer reviews/feedback on your website or through social media. Such persuasion motivates buying decisions and helps cement the client-business relationship. People who carefully consider a decision before making it become emotionally invested in seeing it turn out well. No one likes to admit to a mistake, so if such a customer has a rare moment of disappointment, they will be less likely to cut and run, allowing you to recover from a minor error.
  • Ensure the purchasing experience is a good one – What would you do if someone concluded their business with you feeling regret, and you knew about it? How could you get them to feel better? Send them a card letting them know you appreciated their business? Maybe inquire as to their ongoing satisfaction with the product or service, or the level of attention they received? Perhaps make sure they know you stand behind their purchase with reasonable support so they stay happy? Do these things with everyone as standard operating procedure, and you’ll combat stray feelings of regret among the few. You’ll also ensure that worry-free clients bond even more tightly with you!
  • Never take them for granted – If you’ve been diligent in developing client relationships through this point, you should be in great shape. In fact, victory is yours if you don’t blow it. Remember those promises to answer concerns and provide appropriate ongoing support? Make sure you’re keeping them. And, in general, stay in touch with friendly cards, surveys, newsletters and specials. Always let existing customers know how important they are to you. (Just think of all the work you’ve put into the relationship already. Don’t let that go to waste now!)
  • Take advantage of their advocacy – They really like you and you really like them. This is where the investment in client development truly pays dividends. Make it easy for great clients to share their enthusiasm by featuring them in testimonials and case studies, onsite reviews and marketing collateral. You might even reward them with a client referral program. (Meanwhile, don’t forget to take a moment to feel earned pride over every super client you have!)

It’s true that not every prospect will require every outlined step to be a buyer; you may be lucky enough to have a few very low-maintenance clients for years and years. Conversely, some people are going to leave you no matter what you do. But If you have a process for turning customers into advocates and stick to it, you will have exponentially increased your odds of enjoying consistent, sustainable business growth.

Keys to Trade Show Follow Through

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Guest blog by Susan Canonico, CEO of ADM Two.
The show is over. Everything is in storage, ready for the next event, and you’re back at the office. Now, it’s time to get your return on investment. You’ll need a good trade show follow through plan. Start with organizing all of the contacts and personal information, or notes taken during the show. These may have already been entered into your CRM. If you don’t have a database, then use a spreadsheet. Either way, it’s time to get in touch with these folks.

Here are eight steps to follow through with all of your contacts and leads.

  • Bring everyone together: Each team member has information, too. It’s time to pool together their information. This is where you can assign order of importance for each lead. Timing is important, so don’t let those hot leads cool off.
  • Divvy up the work: A team meeting will get everyone on the same page and make the load manageable.
  • Practice your pitch: The sales pitch after a show should be easy to remember, quickly delivered and friendly. It also needs to be passed on and rehearsed.
  • Continue the conversation: Give them a call and try to reconnect, using the personal and professional notes from the show.
  • Connect on social media: Connections with show attendees grows your market reach and provides new-quality leads.
  • Marketing activities: One way to grab attention is to send e-newsletters with interesting content. This may include statistics on the trade show, who was in attendance, and anything that happened while there. You can sneak in a product announcement in there, as well.
  • Be respectful. There are ways to make negative impressions, such as being pushy and rude. Stay positive and maintain a respectful approach to garnering attention. Be respectful and be persistent, not aggressive.
  • Debriefing meeting: Sharing the success, shortcomings, and failures is a great way to improve for the next show. The only way to do this is to be honest and mission focused, leaving personal issues aside for the sake of the bigger picture.

One of the goals for every show is making it a positive experience for visitors to your booth, as well as your employees working there. Maybe it’s time to try something new, like technology and interactivity, to add to your experience. Some of the things on your list after your trade show follow through may take several months, such as additions to the booth or redesign. Plan your next show well in advance and you’ll be able to capitalize on the things you learned.

ADM Two staff are experts on display design and fabrication, so give us a call at (813) 887-1960 and one of our knowledgeable staff can assist you with your display, no matter where your event takes place. Also, check out some of our other articles to get more information on trade show booth layouttrade show graphics, and etiquette.

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Use a Welcome Letter to Help Hang on to a New Client

welcome client letterIf you’ve ever been fishing on the bank of a river or pond, you’ve probably had a fish that you caught spit the hook out just as it hits the ground. It’s flopping and flailing just inches from the water’s edge, and you must act quickly to prevent it from getting away. The fish has been landed, but not secured for the long term.

New clients can seem like that. They may not be comfortable in their new situation with you, and may want to get away. Unlike the fish, however, your client isn’t a victim of deception, and will benefit from being “reeled in.” A welcome letter (or more likely an email) is an easy way to keep new clients by reassuring them that they’re now in good hands.

Here is a six-point checklist for your new-client welcome letter:

Know who you’re writing to. Address the letter recipient by name in the salutation—first and last. This is going to sound a little hard-edged, but using someone’s full name indicates you know who they are and you have them “on record” as your client. It’s okay though, you are going to be warm, friendly and reassuring throughout the letter; potential intimidation will be purely subliminal. (Okay, maybe write, “Welcome, John Smith,” instead of “Dear John Smith.”)

Along with identifying your new client as an individual, you are also acknowledging their change of status—they’ve gone from being a prospect to a member of your clientele. So, give the active selling a rest! A welcome letter is not the place to upsell a new client or tell them about a sale or new offerings. Your purpose here is to make them comfortable in their new relationship with your business, that’s all.

Cement your relationship by referencing their affirmative action. They’ve either purchased something, agreed to purchase something, or have signed up to have you provide a product or service if their need arises. Mentioning their agreement to buy—like using their name—is a way of saying “we’ve got you down for this,” but quickly ask them how they are enjoying their purchase, or emphasize the benefits they can expect.

Reiterate your value proposition. When someone makes a purchase, they are acknowledging, and then attempting to satisfy a need (or desire). But just because someone came to you this time, doesn’t automatically mean you’ll get him/her the next time. Somewhere in your welcome letter, you should remind your new client of your company’s value proposition (e.g. the thing that best distinguishes you from your competitors).

Emphasize your brand. Your welcome letter isn’t an ad; in fact, it may come to your new client as plain text. But along with referencing your value proposition, there are other ways to help make your brand resonate with the client. Use your business name at least twice in the copy. Look for an opportunity to mention your tagline. Make sure the tone of your copy matches your other marketing materials (i.e. serious, professional, light-hearted, humorous … etc.). And of course, if there are graphic elements, they should match the color schemes and design of other public-facing collateral. In addition to building top-of-mind awareness, branding gives your clients something to which they can personally connect.

Include contact information. Communication is vital to every successful relationship … and that means two-way communication! Be sure to include a phone number, email address, URL … etc. for questions or feedback, then encourage their use.

And be a real human being! You used their full name, so put the name and title of a prominent representative of your company at the close of your welcome letter.  New clients will know that there’s a live person who is standing by the words of the letter and is offering to listen if they have something to say.

Thank them! We almost left this off the list because it seems so obvious, but let the new client know how much you appreciate the trust they’ve put in your company.

Keep in mind is that no one likes to be fooled (e.g. taken in by a shiny lure). That concern will work in your favor, because new clients want to be believe they made the right to decision about your business. When you send them a welcome letter, it’s kind like giving them a pat on the back that says, “Congratulations! You did good!”

Should Your Business Have a Newsletter?

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“We need a newsletter.” Perhaps no four words so fill the hearts of marketing communication staffs with dread. That’s because company newsletters always seem to be the spur-of-the-moment brainchild of underutilized executives, who — having left this rotting corpse of an idea on someone else’s doorstep — immediately scurry off to attend their regular duties (probably clogging sinks and putting sugar in gas tanks).

 

Okay, maybe that intro is a little over-the-top and not quite fair (after all, this article is in a newsletter) but we’re trying to flip the mindset on newsletters from automatic “yes” to skeptical “maybe.” They can indeed be worthwhile vehicles for building rapport with customers, channel partners, employees and others, but they can also easily become a burdensome waste of time that ends in embarrassing surrender

 

Here are five questions that must be answered with a solid affirmative before committing to producing a regular newsletter. (And it IS a commitment to your audience, even though 80% or more of them may never read it.)

  • Will it provide ongoing support for achieving your overall marketing objectives? You should think of a newsletter the way publishers think of any periodical: they expect them to run forever. This means you don’t want to create a new newsletter only in conjunction with an occasional or unique occurrence (i.e. new product or service) or business change (i.e. a merger) that takes place within a limited time. Sure, you should publicize such things in email alerts, press releases, ads, blogs, even articles in an existing newsletter … anything … except a separate publication. Newsletters need a permanent theme and then should help you do something that will always need to be done, namely keep vital audiences connected to your organization.
  • Will it always offer value to your audience? If you ask yourself whether someone would be better off by having read your proposed newsletter, you can probably always rationalize a “yes.” (After all, you wouldn’t want anyone to miss out on your weekly sales specials!) But will the audience readily perceive the value of your proposed newsletter’s content? Before you get too far along, ask some objective (and honest) people how they would feel about receiving the newsletter in their inboxes.
  • Will you have enough content? True, there are no rules about how long a newsletter has to be, but realistically, the first one will kind of set the standard. Before starting a newsletter, businesses often have a lot of share-worthy information stockpiled. However, if they get too ambitious with the frequency or amount of content up front, it will evaporate surprisingly fast. Editorial staff will be left scratching their heads as deadlines loom. Make sure you will always have an adequate amount of worthwhile information in the pipeline before going forward with a newsletter.
  • Do you have the resources to produce it? Don’t be fooled, a newsletter requires a real investment. Do you have people with the skill and talent to produce a newsletter? If yes, the second question is whether those people have the time. Then, will you be able to reliably get it to your readership? Finally, what sort of ROI can you expect? If you’re going to publish a newsletter, it should be done well … as it will be a very visible representation of your company. Poor quality and haphazard delivery will not speak well of your business.
  • Will you, personally, enthusiastically read it? If everything is a “yes” up to this point, you have some real momentum going in favor of a newsletter, but before pulling the trigger, pause. Think about your own inbox and everything you are expected to read or want to read every day. Now think of where the proposed newsletter would sit on your list of things to peruse. If you, as a chief executive, won’t read your own newsletter with interest, how could you expect other audiences to do so?

If you answered yes to these questions and are ready to start your newsletter, let’s talk!

 

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