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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.

Avoid Industry Jargon in Customer Communications

avoid industry jargon marketing_news copySome days ago, an acquaintance shared his recent experience breaking in a new hair stylist. She asked how previous barbers cut his hair, specifically which of two cutting implements was preferred. He didn’t quite catch the first option but heard “shears” for the second. Thinking of the shearing tool used on sheep, he chose that, but he left the choice up to the stylist.

He was a bit surprised to see the woman start with the scissors, but said nothing. After what struck him as an unusually laborious process, however, he commented on her meticulous care. (It was his gentlest nudge to hurry her along.) The stylist explained she wasn’t used to cutting hair with shears. Recognizing the misunderstanding, he quickly encouraged the stylist to change her method—much to her own relief. He then offered that most people referred to what she had been using as “scissors.” In response, she insisted with a terse smile, “Shears.”

Several factors led to the mix-up, and in the greater scheme of things the incident was no big deal. Yet the story does lead one to wonder how often companies—and the professionals who lead them—lose productivity and poorly serve clientele by using “correct” terminology rather than the words customers best understand?

Some industries are more prone to jargon—as well as jargon-based acronyms—than others. Healthcare (jargon examples: topical, hypoglycemic) and finance (examples: securitization, liquidity) are big offenders but technology (examples: Cloud, onboarding and solution this-and-that) may be the worst. (We must admit, though, that people in marketing also habitually throw around terms that are meaningless to the average person.)

Industry jargon can be difficult to avoid because it rises organically as people with similar knowledge and training create a common language of sorts. Additionally, professionals tend to enjoy their jargon as a way of showing off and differentiating themselves from the great unwashed. Understandable … but stop it! You want to make a connection with your customers, and you can’t do that if important information comes across as “blah-blah,” “thingamajig” and “doohickey.”

Here are five steps to help clean the jargon from your external communications:

  • Identify your target audience. Add jargon-killing as another reason why this should always be the first step in any marketing initiative. The better acquainted you are with your potential customers, the easier it will be to understand how best to craft a message that resonates with them. And if you happen to be targeting another segment of your own industry, you may be able to keep (some of) the jargon after all!
  • Test language for common understanding. As we get comfortable in our surroundings (in our bubbles, nose-blind … etc.) it’s hard to recognize what’s jargon and what isn’t. Try presenting your marketing materials and Web content to people outside your industry for their feedback. A good professional marketing firm (like Pinstripe) can also help you “democratize” your promotional content and sales spiels.
  • Identify things by their functions. Not only will this approach help assure that your audience knows what you mean, it may serve the dual purpose of clearly presenting a benefit to a potential customer. That’s a good thing.
  • Avoid acronyms … or at least spell them out upon first reference. Often, if someone can see what the letters stand for, they can figure out what you’re talking about. This however, doesn’t always work. For example, noting UI means “user interface” may not help a lot. In this case, see Rule #3.
  • Encourage customers to ask questions. No one likes to admit a lack of understanding, so customers may smile and nod even though they have no idea what you’re talking about. Keep this in mind, explain your proclivity for jargon (“it’s not you, it’s me.”) and sincerely encourage them to ask questions if there’s something they don’t understand.

This shouldn’t need to be said, but sometimes it is: Ignorance is not the same as stupidity. Customers may not know the right word(s) for what they need, but they are the only ones who can accurately define it. Don’t let understanding your jargon get in the way of your understanding what’s truly important.

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If I Have to Go to One More Happy Hour…

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Networking always seems like it revolves around a happy hour or cocktails in a conference room with some finger foods. These events can be effective in bringing people out to mingle, but really lose their luster after a while. Below are a few networking ideas that stray from the traditional “bring your business cards” happy hour networking events.

Building Relationships – Strengthening Bonds

Today, business networking is more than an exchange of business cards. Your time is more precious than ever, and spending it with people you barely know may feel like you’re taking away from other work and family time. If you want more meaningful interactions, then it’s time to change your point of view about networking and concentrate on building relationships. One of the best ways to break out of the happy hour habit is through alternative forms of networking.

Volunteering

Some of the strongest bonds you can form are with like-minded people. Volunteering for a non-profit organization will get you in touch with people who care about the same things you do. With your business experience, you may choose to sit on the board and use your strengths where they are needed. The added bonus is that there are a lot of other business people who are the board for non-profits. They donate their time to causes they care about, which will be something you have in common.

For Entrepreneurs

There are many community organizations for entrepreneurs. Usually, these are focused around specific areas and have criteria for getting admitted. Nothing too stringent, just rules in place that limit the types of businesses in the group. You can practice your elevator pitch and share some insight into owning your business.

Social Media

Build and reach out to your network through social media. This is a great venue to share information about your business or the industry. It’s also a good way to share any leads to people in your circle. Remember to keep your profiles up-to-date and regularly post interesting information to capture their attention.

Even when we volunteer, we need to open ourselves up to talk to strangers. Try not to be too shy and maybe you’ll have something in common. If so, focus on talking about those things, then branch out from there and talk about business. These are like-minded people, so just be yourself and enjoy your time together.

 

Building a Reputation Through Volunteering

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“Oh! I know Ginger!” My team often hears that phrase while talking with people at events around Tampa Bay. When the topic of work comes up and they mention Pinstripe Marketing, they frequently get that response. Years ago, after hearing dozens of those exclamations, our former creative director joked, “Geez, we should have buttons!” A project manager agreed and they decided to arm themselves with a response of their own at the next event. It caught on. Although silly, people would actually wear the buttons, causing others to say “I know Ginger; where’s my button?” or “Who is Ginger? I want a button.”

building reputation through volunteering

I am what many would consider “a habitual joiner.” Perhaps suffering from a severe case of FOMO, I wanted to be involved in everything – professional associations, business organizations, non-profit boards – wherever I could surround myself with people (typical ENFP) and give back to my industry and community. By being involved and serving on boards, I had the opportunity to illustrate my work ethic, organization, communication and marketing skills, and (hopefully) that I was friendly and easy to work with.

Through the relationships I’ve built volunteering, I have met some of my very best friends, business colleagues, and, most importantly for my business, clients. In fact, I can directly trace a significant portion of the agency’s annual revenue to connections made from my volunteer work.

Just recently, we landed a new client in a fast-growing segment of the GPS technology industry. When I asked the vice president of operations how they initially heard about us, he said, “I sent a query out to my circle of trusted associates and your name came back twice.” Similarly, when meeting with a local law firm that week, I asked the same question. The marketing director said, “I asked a group of legal administrators and you were recommended seven times!”

While most professional services firms attribute more than 70% of their business to referrals, I know our involvement in the community is responsible for even more. How do I know? Because we have rarely proactively pursued a client.

However, now is the time to leverage that reputation and implement a business development campaign to strategically target new clients. We’re looking forward to growing the business and building relationships with new clients who will ultimately make new referrals.

I understand that we’re all busy, and over the last several years, I have become more selective about where I spend my time. It’s important to identify what organizations will provide what you’re seeking – more knowledge, more connections, or more passion for a cause. Getting involved and serving in trade associations or volunteer organizations is an excellent way to build a network, particularly for introverts who may cringe at the thought of attending a big networking event or non-profit fundraiser. The idea of “working a room” is unappealing to most, but getting to know a small group of like-minded individuals working toward a common mission creates bonds that last.

I wrote this article because we have been planning for 2017 and analyzing many aspects of our business. This year especially, my involvement in the community has really paid off. So whether you are making resolutions or just looking to approach business development from a different perspective, hopefully this is a good reminder. We always recommend to our clients to stay heavily involved in trade associations and the community – for many reasons. Best of luck capturing more of an audience for your business in the new year!

Oh, and let me know if you want a button. 🙂

 

Below are some resources for getting involved and building your own reputation.

Find a Trade Association

Networking for Introverts

Fundamentals of Serving on a Board

 

Relationship Building for Business and More

relationship building for business
Relationship building is a fundamental facet of life – we meet people, we connect with them, we become friends with them. Building relationships happens over time, and as time goes by, acquaintances become friends through common interests and shared experiences. Perhaps we’ve known a person long enough to have watched their children grow or were present during tough life events. The longer you know someone, the more you share. These shared experiences form bonds and serve as the foundation of a more profound friendship, but this type of relationship affects our professional lives as well.

Friendships and business relationships overlap fairly often. One of the things we have learned over time is that business relationships often evolve into friendships, and vice versa. Someone who has been a friend for years may one day open a door that you never knew was there.

Case in Point

This is a story about a small network of three people who were connected in different ways, with names changed for anonymity.

September was on the hunt for a job, and her first search terms pulled up a website for a company that she had never heard of, despite the fact that it was right down the street from her old photography studio. She looked over the website and thought the company looked interesting, so she prepped her cover letter and resume and thought she would give it a shot. Sending an unsolicited resume is often fruitless, but September knew that sending hundreds of resumes out would be more likely to yield a collection of viable results. She sent her resume to every single email address she could find.

Diana received September’s email and read over the cover letter with curiosity. She was intrigued, so she decided to do “the search.” First, she went to LinkedIn and discovered that she and September shared a number of connections, although she had never heard the name before. One friend in particular was William, who was a good friend of Diana and whom she had met years ago through a leadership program. She immediately called William to get the scoop on this mysterious September. William, always one to chat, was instantly excited. He told Diana that she had to hire September, sang her praises almost endlessly, and almost kicked himself for not having made the introduction himself, much earlier.

On the other end of things, September continued her search and had sent her resume to a few more places, not expecting immediate results, but diligently focused on acquiring at least one or two responses within a week. To her surprise, she was to receive a response within minutes of sending out that first resume, certainly a personal record. The phone rang and it was William. It had been quite some time since September had seen or even spoken to William, but he was one of those timeless friends who you pick up with wherever you left off. She was happy to hear from him. William instantly began talking about Diana, the owner of the very company September had just sent her resume to. He was ecstatic for the connection, and told September that he thought it was the perfect fit. He told her that he had just gotten off the phone with Diana, and had a really good conversation.

September emailed Diana when she hung up with William. They set up a time to meet, and their first meeting was such a success that September knew almost instantly that this was where she would end up. William was right. He had seen something in these two women that he knew would bring them together. September accepted Diana’s job offer, and the rest is history. The three of them still have lunch on a regular basis, and September and Diana both are grateful to William for bringing them together.

As you can see from the story, there was one small hole in this network – the connection between September and Diana had not yet been made. Now this web is complete, and they have connected other parts of their web as well, through friendships, business partnerships, and acquaintances. It is quite interesting to think about the vast network of people that we have in our lives, especially for those who are involved in many community activities. Your network could extend much farther than you even realize. Sometimes it takes only one person to bridge the gap, as in this case. Once September and Diana’s gap had been bridged, they realized how many other friends they had in common.

Have you had a similar experience? We would love to hear your stories about networking surprises.

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