Getting touchy-feely with you

By Chris Cavey
10 Sep 2021

You’ve had a sleepless night. It’s the big meeting tomorrow where client ‘x’ is due to sign off on your multi-million pound digital transformation plans. They cancel at the last minute, requesting the meeting’s pushed out by two weeks. No need to worry, or should you? Are they hiding something? A lot can happen in two weeks after all. It feeds the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of your stomach that’s been growing. The acceptance and realisation the game’s changed.  

You’re right. The ‘cash cow’ client list isn’t readily available to milk – the spreadsheets, cashflow, and P&L don’t lie. Clients aren’t coming through the door (albeit virtually) at the same rate they used to, in fact they want a new commercial model based on performance and outcomes. There’s pressure from your own board. Panic takes over and before you know it you’ve made a bad decision or two. Your confidence is knocked, you’re left questioning yourself, your ability and your job security.

I’m sure many of you can resonate with the above. But did you ever stop to think about your ‘client values’? Are you really delivering ‘value’ to them? What’s the ‘price’ of value? STOP THERE!  You’ve assumed value has to be quantifiable. There’s more to your clients’ loyalty than having the most competitive price and rapid delivery. It’s very common to assume clients’ highest values are placed on price and convenience – sorry any CFOs reading. Clients are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and they place value on different things when committing to your business. 

My focus and top of my list is ‘you’, they are not buying your business, they are buying the people they’ve met – ‘you’.  You may be the account man, PM, creative, designer, technologist – it doesn’t matter your discipline. They just want to know they’ve got a trustworthy and reliable team of  ‘yous’, servicing their business needs and delivering superior business performance. Or more simply put, ‘you’ and your team need to ensure ‘x’ client ends up on that ‘golden pedestal’. 

New business or pitches won are often a result of relationships with the aforementioned disciplinary expertise flourishing from the ‘get-go’. That’s not to say your pitch wasn’t ‘knock out’, it may have been. But there was a probably a mistake or two, it may normally mean you’ve out of the running. But you’ve peaked your clients interest in a future working relationship as they want more of ‘you’.  And that’s not to say they don’t value the open communication channels, your products/services, what your company stands for and your office space (pre-pandemic). It’s all important and fundamentally ‘you’ have a critical role in communicating all of this information. 

Plus, I haven’t mentioned the added value personal items that only ‘you’ can provide. Or what I see as the ‘tipping point’ items, that push your relationship with client ‘x’ to the next level. Those might be your perspective on the latest technology trends, how the markets are going to affect the sector’s performance, the inside knowledge on your client’s sports team, or equally important, where they should be buying that artisan mocha-chocca-latte (with oat milk) from. These items can go a long way to creating a close bond because you’ve understood what they value. However, it’s difficult to execute, it’s not easy, every client is different and you’re not going to get on with all of them. Humans are messy, emotional and irrational. Yes, you are, we are – we all are?!? But I’m going to make it easy for ‘you’.  

You ASK customers what they value. Yes, that’s it! Of course, you can’t just come out and say “Hey customer, what do you value?” Or worse, tell them what you think they should value. Keep to your side of the court, ask the right questions at the right time. You have to foster the relationships you’ve created with clients and ask them to help you make your product and company better. Yes, it’s going to require a healthy dose of humility, honesty and checking your ego at the door – otherwise known as the 15% rule. That’s something that’s a little risky or 15% outside your comfort zone.  When it does work out, you find people to be more interesting and you know more about them, their business – even if it’s not all positive. You’ve become what the Stanford folk call ‘touchy-feely’.

And ‘you’ need to promote everyone to thinking about the valuable questions to ask your clients, realising their role expands beyond their ‘work station’. The most successful  teams and companies break out of their designated silos. What many like to coin as ’T’ shaped team members or I prefer to call ‘expert generalists’ are gold dust. But titles or roles aren’t important here, what’s important is the client value exchange by whomever leads client ‘x’ realising they have a business partnership that can blossom.  

I discussed this matter with Shey Cobley (Global Design Studio Head) who facilitates client workshops for global brands to understand the ‘value’ of asking the right questions, whether the awkward questions often result in rewarding outcomes and importance of ‘you’. 

“Client workshops are an invaluable way of connecting with clients on a human level and really understanding their unmet needs and how we as a team can support them on their journey. I think of them like dating. You would not go into a first date and ask your perspective partner what their 10 year plan is including number of children and child rearing philosophies. You might – but you probably won’t have a second date. Workshops allow us to explore topics understand drivers and get a ‘feel’ for one another. We are not looking for a fling we are looking for a relationship and workshops are a great way of understanding can we work together – we can ask questions and understand clients and they can under us and who we are.”

So, if I’m to surmise this isn’t about your company’s values, it’s about what your clients value. It’s all about your clients, they’re in the driving seat and they have the cash and the loyalty you want. When you get up close and personal with your customers and dig into the emotional reasons why they buy, and you collect enough information to start determining patterns you can start reaping customer conversion and loyalty rewards for your company.  If you’re exceeding customer needs and creating value better than your competitors, customers have no reason to leave. And don’t get idle, your client and their competitors are always evolving, so keep asking the questions.

Any how, sorry, must dash, I’ve just heard there’s a gluten free oat milk on the market. This will make someone I know very happy. The small things add up to big returns. 🙂

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