The US economy is clearly the worst we have seen in our industry in many years. The question is, are we in the beginning, middle or nearing the end of this current downturn? Although there are some positive signs for recovery soon, there is an equal amount of information that suggests there may be rough times ahead. Some say it could be several years until a sustainable upward trend in the economy will occur. You only have to look at the continued mounting consumer debt, the high potential for significant commercial real estate defaults and rapidly decreasing tax revenues which will adversely impact states, counties, cities and other tax dependent entities to see that storm clouds remain on the horizon.
I believe prudent leaders should prepare for inconsistent economic conditions for an extended period into the future. The keys to “weathering this storm” includes:
- Refining your strategy – ensuring you are focused on the right markets, clients and staying true to your business model and direction
- Having a client focus – taking care of your best clients
- Taking care of the business – managing efficient operations, while eliminating distractions or initiatives not proving out, to maintain profits
- Managing the human equation – having the right people doing the right things and have a company-wide communication plan in action
- Keeping an eye to the future – taking steps to drive sustainable growth for the future
All of these are equally important during these times. This article focuses on one aspect of these focus areas, having a strong client focus to maintain and ideally grow “top-line” revenues. Maintaining the top-line revenue is critical because a services company is structured at every level to deliver a certain amount of revenue, based on the personnel it has. It is very difficult to reduce costs fast enough to counteract even a small drop in revenue. The important key to revenue growth revolves around having a strong external client focus and excelling in what you do as a company. The key elements to that client focus include:
- Superior communication
- Delivering the best
- Finding opportunities to expand the business
Poor communication is the biggest single complaint of clients. In all the surveys that are performed, the number one complaint from the feedback is that companies need to do a much better job with communication. In tough economic times, a business never wants to give its clients a reason to consider a change. Therefore, client communication is even more critical and excelling in your ability to communicate can actually give you a competitive advantage. Some simple tips to improve communication include:
- A weekly check-in with clients via phone. This provides an opportunity to see how things are going with their business, with them personally (including their family), to gain market intelligence and ask about future opportunities.
- Calling clients when you don’t win the contract. It is just as important to follow-up with a client when you don’t win the work as when you do. It is an opportunity to reinforce your interest in them as a client and find out how to improve relative to your scope, qualifications/capability or fees. It’s also a great opportunity to ask about other opportunities they or someone else in or out of their organization may have.
- Hand delivering your work product and proposals. Take the time to carefully review your project work, explain a report or set of plans, or review the proposal with them – in person. This technique can not only eliminate ambiguities, relay the progress, alert them to changes and educate your clients, but it can also demonstrate that you really do care and value the relationship by making the time for them. Finally, it’s a great opportunity to ask how else you might help them.
- Following up immediately after the work is complete. This ensures what you did met their expectations. It also is another one of those great opportunities to continue building the relationship and looking where other contract opportunities might be with them in the future.
- Giving brownbag presentations in the clients’ offices. Making presentations, in particular on a technology or service offering is a powerful way to get your staff in front of many of their key staff. These should not be marketing presentations, but rather teaching opportunities.
- Inviting clients to your in-house office meetings or to project sites. This has many benefits, including experiencing your firms’ culture, showing them what you are working on and are capable of doing, allowing them to meet key office/field staff and providing a learning opportunity.
Delivering high-quality work in an efficient, timely and profitable manner is essential to the continued health of any business. At the same time, having a helpful and solution oriented approach to the work goes hand and hand with doing the work. When working on contracts, a business should ensure that:
- The right personnel are working on an assignment. This begins by ensuring the project manager assigned to this contract has the communication, business and leadership skills to deliver the work. Also, that you have your best and most qualified staff assigned to the contract so they can deliver that work in an efficient and technically correct manner.
- Look for value-added solutions and innovate where possible. This is the best way to differentiate your firm. Challenging yourself to always be looking for value-added opportunities with a project can be not only a way to gain more preference with the client, but also an opportunity to derive more revenue for your firm.
- Exceeding the clients’ expectations. Meeting a clients’ expectation relative to schedule, budget and quality is not good enough. The best firms exceed their clients’ expectations so that you can’t give them a reason to consider someone else. Beating deadlines, staying at or under budgets and building excellent quality in your work product are imperatives in this economy.
Directing the resources, time, and the firm’s capital to look for new opportunities to drive revenue in the door is critical in these times. Everyone in a company can have a part in this effort. In saying this, you cannot be successful by trying to be everywhere, doing everything and being everything to all clients. Staff within a professional services business need to:
- Pass along leads. Create an environment where you encourage all to pass along leads to those who have direct client contact. More importantly, maintain an internal communication system to pass key client and contract opportunity information throughout the firm.
- Look for cross-selling service opportunities. Whether you are organized by market sector, practice area/discipline, or geography, make sure you have a similar system in place to cross sell services. Ensure there are no artificial boundaries that will prohibit the ability to share information and ultimately talent in the firm.
- Focus on clients identified in the strategic or annual business plan. Whether by client type or by name, it’s important you stay true to your business model and strategic direction by focusing on those clients that have been determined as a fit for the firm. This may mean separating from or “firing” those that don’t fit.
- Specifically target clients. Make sure you have identified those clients who present opportunities in the near term and who are moving forward – so your business moves forward. Additionally, ensure the largest and best prospects are getting the highest priority.
So what can every employee that has customer contact do in a professional services company? Well, it’s pretty simple:
- Be in continuous conversation with your customers
- Deliver your best service, innovation and quality
- Look for ways to help your business grow revenues