What makes a good client?

When you first start in business perhaps any client is a good client – so long as they pay! While this approach certainly has a focused simplicity, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I have been asking myself what makes a good client for BSA for more than 30 years. I still don’t have the perfect answer. The problem, I now realise, is that my priorities shift. With every change in outlook, so what constitutes my ‘ideal client‘ changes. Talking with others, it would appear that I am not alone in my quest for client perfection! Maybe some objectivity, based on real-world experience, might be helpful.

Client or Customer?

Do you have clients or customers? The way I look at it is that if your business sells products, you sell to customers while if you are more service-based (even if products are part of your proposition) then you sell to clients.  This is a bit of a simplified view but it holds true for most companies. Consequently, it is helpful in this discussion where I am primarily talking about clients – i.e. where the service you deliver is at least a significant part of what you do. Big retailers wax lyrical about the shopping experience  – look at John Lewis’s latest push to develop ‘experience playgrounds‘ – but, in my book,  this is very different to a typical SME service business where having a good relationship ‘fit’ with your clients is pretty much essential.

The importance of fit

A key lesson I learnt a few years ago is the importance of ‘fit’. Like every other company, we have a way of doing business. As a small SME, this way is substantially driven by the people in the business. Trying to work with clients who don’t relate to this approach is fraught with difficulty. Not necessarily impossible but almost always hard work! Conversely, dealing with clients who do connect with our approach gives a great platform from which to grow a solid, long-term business relationship.

The challenge is that I can’t dictate how others think or feel. I can’t make someone relate to our approach. This means that even if someone shows an initial interest in our services, if the fit isn’t there, there is a chance the interest won’t lead anywhere. I used to see this as a negative but now it is definitely a positive.

Of course, this idea only succeeds when sufficient people do connect! It might be a good thing if some potential clients don’t have the fit – but there must be enough others who do!

It’s not about the money

I said at the start of this piece that maybe any client who pays is a good client but, as BSA has evolved, I am increasingly of the opinion that this is the wrong way to look at relationships with clients.

Actually the important thing is that you have a strong relationship with your client based on mutual benefit and respect.  Clearly, a business is a commercial entity so must have a fee structure that works. However, if your focus is on delivering real benefit, this will mean you are directed at delivering value to your clients. They will then be more than willing to pay for your input.

Focus on delivering benefit and the money will follow.

Nothing is forever…

At BSA, we are proud that most of our clients have worked with us for many years. Some for 10 years or more. It is a strong sign that we are doing something right!  Even so, nothing lasts forever. Circumstances change, personnel move on. Just because you stop working with a client doesn’t mean anything has gone wrong, it is just a natural progression. If a good client relationship is based on a good fit, then if things change for either you or your client, it may be that the fit is no longer so strong and it is time to evolve.  This is part of running your own company. What is important is that if business with a particular client does wind down, it shouldn’t impact on your relationship. Even a past-client can be a great advocate of your business for referral to new prospects.

…but try to keep the door open

Even with the natural ebb and flow of good business relationships, we have found it immensely valuable to keep the door open with past clients. Even if there is only a very small, low-cost service you can continue to deliver after the main work has concluded, this keeps the door open and a flame under the relationship. You still have a basis for keeping in touch. Just as the pendulum can swing away from a good fit, so it can swing back again!

At the end of the day, whether at home or at work, good relationships take time to develop and it is in everyone’s interest if they are respectfully nurtured.

Love your clients & they will love you back

Given this week’s focus on relationships and the importance of finding a good fit between yourselves and your clients, I thought it would be worth revisiting this post that we did last year.

Many people think that marketing is all about finding opportunities to sell your products & services. The focus is on generating leads and managing them through the pipeline. In reality, this is sales. The heart of marketing is much more about understanding & building a relationship with your market, and giving them a reason to love your brand.

Step 1 – Understand what makes your customers happy

It may sound obvious, but marketing is first and foremost an outward-looking discipline. Anyone involved in marketing should spend significant time talking to customers. Talk online through social media, surveys etc, or face to face visiting exhibitions, networking or spending time with salespeople. Knowing what makes your customers tick, what makes them happy and most importantly what difficulties they have both with your company and competitors should be at the core of your activities as a marketer. Delivering value should be your number one priority, and the only way you can do this is understanding what your clients value.

Step 2 – Tailor your offering to Meet/Exceed their expectations

Only when you truly know your market, and how to add value should your focus turn inward to the services & products you offer and how you interact with your marketplace to deliver these. Even here your primary objective must be to tailor what you do to the benefit of your clients. If your clients don’t value something, then why do it. If they value it, they will be willing to pay for it, so do it. Apple’s customers value the quality & slick design of their products, and Steve Jobs famously said:

“When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.”

Now the bottom line is important to every business, and you ignore it at your peril, but whilst using the plywood would definitely improve the bottom line. If your clients value craftsmanship, then not using the plywood is the right thing to do, as it will help you to exceed expectations. Ultimately if they value it, they will pay for it.

 Love your clients & they will love you back

Step 3 – Work continually to develop the level of value you deliver to your clients

This process is iterative, and once you start on the journey, you need to keep going. As you deliver to your clients, their expectations will rise. As a result, you will need to be getting continuous feedback from your marketplace. You are back to step one. Embedding this process into your day to day management practices means that you will continually enhance your brand.  Stay in line with and ideally ahead of expectations. Your clients will love you for it.

The key to a long-lasting relationship

This is all well and good, but when considering all of the above, it is important to keep your own company’s objectives and goals in mind. As David discusses in his post this week, it’s important to find a good fit, between what your clients need, and what you are best suited to delivering. That way you will find it much easier to deliver for your clients without creating a headache for yourself.

Know your markets – Serve their needs

In this week’s podcast, we touched on the importance of knowing your markets. Looking back in our archive, I realised that we have never really done a post on the subject. Something I thought that needed addressing. So here goes.

One Market Many Segments

It’s a well known marketing fact that to be successful you need to know and understand your markets. But your markets are rarely simple. It is likely that you will be supplying multiple groups, each with different needs.

When looking at categorising or segmenting your markets. There are two key questions to ask:

  1. What benefits does the target of the communication gain from my product or service
  2. What message style will best engage with the group

For any group of customers, if the answers to these two questions match, then they will probably fall into the same segment.

At this point, I think an example is in order.

Segmentation and Slõ Drinks

One of our clients – Slõ Drinks, uses segmentation very effectively. Slõ supply a drink additive, that allows people living with Dysphagia (Difficulty swallowing) to make their preferred drinks safer to swallow.

If you would like to hear more about them, Check out this weeks podcast where we talk Marketing with Slõ Drinks MD Mathew Done.

Broadly, Slõ split their marketing into 2 segments:

  1. Health Professionals
  2. End Users

Whilst the core message is the same for both groups “Slõ Drinks make drinks safer to drink for those with dysphagia” The way this is communicated needs to be subtly different for the two groups as the benefits they see are slightly different.

Segmenting your messaging

Understanding that you are supplying multiple markets naturally leads into the idea that your message needs to be segmented too. In Slõ Drink’s case, the messaging looks different for each of the two groups, each message focusiing on the needs of the recipient, and how Slõ Drinks can deliver benefit.

Health Professionals: Slõ drinks provide a fantastic cost effective solution for your patients, which is soundly backed up by scientific testing. So you know if you recommend Slõ Drinks, it is a good decision both clinically and financially.

End Users: Slõ Drinks offers a safe and tested way to make living with dysphagia less intrusive. With Slõ Drinks, you can get on with enjoying life knowing that you are managing your dysphagia.

For both the core message “We make drinks safer to drink for those with dysphagia” is consistent. It’s just the angle that is shifted to match the perceived priorities of each group.

All part of the same story

When looking at this subject, its easy to end up with a highly fragmented approach to marketing. To avoid this, the objective is to be consistent in the central messaging, but then tailor this communication to the needs of individual groups. This is the key to successful segmentation.

As we discuss in the podcast, at its core marketing needs to be consistent. But it also needs to be highly relevant to those reading the message, especially given how much we can know about our customers (but that’s a whole other post). The key to achieving this is market segmentation.

Getting your messaging right for each of the segments you are targeting is key. If you would like to talk to the experts about how best to do this, we would love to talk to you.

 

 

 

Do you believe in your business?

Why do we do what we do?

I don’t know about you but I kind of fell into running my own business. I didn’t make some bold decision one day to set up BSA Marketing, I grew into it.

If I am honest, I really didn’t know what I was doing to start with. I had been working with my father and then, following his sudden death, I found myself holding the reins, and the debts, and the responsibility to our staff. I was almost too busy every day to stop and ask myself what I was doing and why! This went on for about 3 years and I really believe that if I had carried on down this path, the business wouldn’t have survived – and it nearly didn’t.

That was 30 years ago and recently I have been thinking about back then and how things evolved. From being on the brink of bankruptcy, how did BSA survive? What changed?

Believe in your business

I am convinced that there was one decision I made, above all the others, that put me on the track to success. I must stop trying to run my father’s business and start to run my own business. This meant moving away from just doing what we did and shifting to think about what we were delivering to our clients. Do I really believe in it?

This shift is fundamental to the essence of running a business. If you aren’t 100% committed to your own proposition, it is hard to build a sustainable company.

Marketing is a real belle-weather of this commitment. Marketing is about communicating your proposition and brand values, rather than just selling your products/services. You do marketing because you really believe that what you offer is beneficial. If you are committed to your business, you want to tell people about it. You know that they will appreciate the outcome of doing business with you. At a fundamental level, you aren’t trying to sell your products or services because you don’t need to. You know that if your customer understands your proposition they will want to buy from you!

This may sound a bit arrogant but actually, you are laying your business on the line. Deliver on your proposition, and your customers will come back for more. Fail to deliver and your customers will go elsewhere in future. Your business will fail.

Listen to your market

While belief in what you are doing might be core to building a strong business, blind faith is a step too far. If marketing is about communicating your proposition to your target market, part of this process is generating a response – and it is important to listen to that response. A common theme amongst successful business owners is the time it takes to create a successful company. In the words of Amazon owner Jeff Bezos:

Overnight success took 10 years

It is while you are growing your business through the early years that your belief in what you are doing is particularly important. You must have the confidence to stick to your guns. However, you must also be ready to listen to your market. It is customer feedback that helps you refine and improve your proposition, but if there is ever uncertainty about what your market is saying, you should always be ready to stand by your own intuition. Use the feedback you get but don’t be dictated by it.

Stick at it – with a plan

If your overnight success is going to take 10 years to come good, you need to be ready to stick at it! Confident persistence in following your belief is at the heart of most successful businesses. The biggest risk you face is running out of cash and this is why having a clear plan is so important. While you can’t predict the future, a plan helps you manage what the future throws at you. Your plan is also the statement of your belief in your business. You aren’t just making it up as you go along. Your plan is your framework against which you can make new decisions as you are presented with new opportunities – or challenges!

In my experience, it is a real privilege to run your own business. It can be hard work and challenging but the opportunities it presents can be difficult to achieve in any other way. However, unless you truly believe in your business, you are unlikely to see what it can offer to you.