The last few years have brought disruption after disruption to bear on the ways companies and customers interact. Arguably, the company-to-customer connection has been more disrupted than supply chains or operations, and more affected by disruptors like Covid and technology than any other key relationship. Think of the rise of e-commerce — which hockey-sticked during the pandemic; or the sudden (or seemingly sudden) ubiquitousness of self-checkout kiosks at grocery stores and pharmacies; or the ever-greater prevalence of voice response systems, to which you must listen closely because the “menu options have changed.” Or, recall the Covid-19 shutdowns and subsequent bounce-back, which altered everything from how diners eat to how sales reps call on B2B customers.
These trends and sudden swings have created significant difficulties for middle market companies and — as we will see — a very important challenge and opportunity for their growth ambitions.
With all of this change has come a dramatic upsurge in customer dissatisfaction. Actually, that’s understating it; we’ve seen an upsurge in customer rage. The newest edition of the Arizona State University W.P. Carey School of Business survey of customer rage found that last year 74% of customers said that they have experienced problems with a product or a service — up from 47% two decades ago. The survey goes on to note that customers are getting angrier and angrier about how they are treated when they deal with companies — and are far less reluctant to express their rage not just to companies, but on social media for all to see. Some of that rage may reflect a rise in general incivility, rather than any specific company failure. But companies bear a good share of the blame; after all, the #1 customer frustration is being unable to talk to a person when they have a problem — and the #2 complaint is that they can’t even find out how to contact the company at all.
From Leaders to Laggards — How Most Companies Are Failing Their Customers
Why? Our analysis suggests that many companies have fallen victim to what they see as a zero-sum game between high-quality service and low cost. Indeed, according to a nationwide survey we conducted, just 15% of companies successfully combine both — i.e., high levels of efficiency and advanced data and analytics combined with high levels of proactive outreach and service — and we call them “Leaders.” Amazon, Amex, and Apple come to mind, and get an “A” in our book.
Go too far in one direction, and you are a “Big Spender,” putting more money into customer service, support, and success than you are getting back in terms of profitability and loyalty. Go too far in the other, and you’re a “Miser,” penny-wise and pound-foolish, frustrating and ultimately losing customers because you don’t connect with them on a level that matters to them.
Surprisingly, 41% of the companies we surveyed fall into the unfortunate “Laggard” category, where they see customer support as a downstream cost center requiring minimal investment, and suffer from low customer satisfaction ratings and high customer churn.
Addressing this tension between cost efficiency and customer intimacy is important for companies of any size, but it’s especially important for midsize companies, particularly those upper-middle-market companies with ambitions to rise to the top of their industry. In many cases, they built their brand, and their differentiation from the big guys, on the idea of personalization — of being closer to their customers than their multinational rivals can be — while also offering more sophistication, a broader offering, and more underlying service capability than small businesses can.
Herein lies the core challenge: to grow, they need to build customer capabilities that are scalable, but if they do that at the expense of proactive connection with customers, they will lose their identity and a big piece of their competitive edge.
Escaping the Zero-Sum Game Approach
We don’t think service and scale are a zero-sum game. On the contrary, we’ve seen company after company make it work, often realizing results in the first year. For example:
- A mid-market payroll solutions provider (with ~2,000 employees) working in a niche part of the industry reduced their servicing cost by 30% and set-up a “Customer Success” team to nurture client relationships and enhance loyalty. The result: a 650% increase in their net promoter score and a substantial increase in wallet share, helping them to gain an edge over the competition in just one year.
- A $500M revenue data storage and protection company reduced its customer-service operating costs by 20% by eliminating duplicate systems and reducing complexity and cost-to-serve by improving the alignment and communication among sales, renewals, and services teams. Revenues rose by 10% in the first year after implementing a Customer Success program that was laser-focused on proactive customer contact, improved wallet share, and improved loyalty.
- A cybersecurity company with ~1K employees increased its use of automation to reduce support costs by approximately 15%; but the same system improved call routing to serve customers better and faster, resulting in a substantial increase in its customer satisfaction score. NPS nearly doubled and customer attrition dropped by 5%, increasing Net Retention Revenue (NRR).
How do they do it? By undertaking three things simultaneously and with a get-stuff-done sense of urgency:
Have a strategic point of view about who you want to be to your customers.
There can be reasons to spend big on personal touch (for example, in a new industry or for a luxury product or service), and reasons to under-invest (e.g., you are in a commodity business where price and availability are more important than anything else). But most companies should seek a competitively advantaged sweet spot where the right kinds of hands-on, proactive attention meets the right kinds of automation and efficiency. You need strategic clarity about what that sweet spot is — and to back that up with the right measurements and incentives.
Do the research to understand your customers’ biggest frustrations and pain points.
What is your brand promise that customers expect you to deliver? Is it a high-touch white glove service (think a Four Seasons hotel) or is it transactional support focused on saving you time (like a Motel6). How do customers perceive the value of your brand, what do they expect to be delivered, and where are your failure points? Use that knowledge to identify a handful of key initiatives that can make a difference in the next six months. For example, rather than forcing self-service or automation on all of your clients, you might be able to meet them in their preferred channel of choice e.g., self-service for tactical queries (or digitally-savvy customers), vs. white-glove customer care for others.
Update your understanding of the art of the possible.
Advances in AI and machine learning in just the last three years have transformed customer relationship management, just as they have rendered (on the upstream side of things) a lot of old ERP systems obsolete. You can now quite inexpensively get real-time customer data at a granular level and build individualized profiles of customers’ needs. It is also easy to route the most valuable or unhappy clients to the most senior or tenured customer care specialists. And the landscape continues to evolve quickly with newcomers like ChatGPT.
Midsize companies especially need to continually explore these options for two reasons: First, because these evolving digital enablers give companies the edge they need to move up from “Laggards” to “Leaders” with more customer insights, views into Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), propensity to churn (improving loyalty), and customer sentiment. Second, your competition is using it, and the bar is rising for everyone.
It Can Be Done: How Winning Companies Are Realizing Tangible Value
As companies continue to navigate this uniquely disruptive environment, we are seeing more leaders protecting their customer base by optimizing customer experience and loyalty. For midsize companies especially, when acquiring new customers or expanding market share becomes increasingly unpredictable, investing in enhancing customer experience, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Net Retention Revenue (NRR) becomes a powerful way to preserve and expand revenue.
Investing in systems and processes won’t be enough. We have found that to win, companies need to focus on three key things to achieve real change:
Elevate customer success to be a core part of the business strategy.
Increasingly, customer experience is seen as a competitive differentiator, especially as more companies stumble in their attempts to shift to digital solutions. Investing in experience and loyalty can drive topline growth, but only if leadership agrees that customer success should have a seat at the table, right next to sales and marketing in terms of strategic importance to your brand’s growth.
Manage technology investments through the business first, not IT.
It is critically important to view digital solutions as strategic business investments, and not technology investments. Time and again we see winning companies frame their core challenges, solutions, vendor selection, and even operationalization as top-down, strategically aligned efforts where IT provides implementation support, rather than acting as the gate keeper. Don’t fall for the latest shiny object — remain true to the brand promise and core objectives.
Appoint a Customer Success leader to take ownership of measurable impact.
Real change will require a change in mindset, and most important, sustained commitment over time to implement needed initiatives, lead training efforts, integrate systems changes, and track financial impacts. Appointing a dedicated leader is critically important to have real ownership to keep Customer Success top of mind as a strategic imperative for growth, even in the most disrupted markets.
In this uniquely disruptive and uncertain environment, it makes sense for companies to invest in protecting their customer base by optimizing customer experience and loyalty. When acquiring new customers or expanding market share becomes increasingly unpredictable, investing in enhanced customer experience, Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Net Retention Revenue (NRR) becomes a powerful tactical lever to preserve and expand revenue.
It can be done. And, with rapidly evolving digital solutions, it can be done faster and more inexpensively than ever. More winning companies are converting this time of disruption into an opportunity to implement customer success solutions to expand revenue and gain a competitive edge. The only question now is: As we emerge from disruption, will you be a Leader, or a Laggard?
Let the Urgency of Your Customers’ Needs Guide Your Sales Strategy
When companies are creating profiles of possible target customers, there is a dimension they often overlook: the urgency of the need for the offering. This article provides a process for segmenting prospective customers in this fashion and creating a sales strategy.
Many business leaders believe that they fully understand their best target customers. They’ve developed clear profiles (a.k.a. personas) that are richly detailed with well-researched parameters, such as standard characteristics (e.g., age, education level, years at the company, role) or firmographic (e.g., annual revenues, number of employees, industry, geography, years in business). While such characteristics are important, they ignore another crucial characteristic: urgency of need.
A company that offers a software-as-a-service billing solution for small and mid-sized private dental practices may focus on classic demographics, such as the size of the practice (number of employees or number of dentists), the age of the practice (since older practices may more likely have outdated systems), or the amount of insurance billing the practice does each year.
These variables are useful in helping to produce a list of prospects, but they don’t determine which of these dental practices the sales team should call on first. If, however, the company added data that reflects which of these practices’ needs is most urgent — say, those that have advertised for billing and claims administration help more than twice in the past year (suggesting that they are struggling to keep up with billing) — salespeople would be able to prioritize their attention on these prospects.
The Four Segments
This needs-based approach entails segmenting potential customers into four segments:
- Urgent. The customer recognizes that it has an immediate need. (We just had another billing person quit!)
- Non-urgent. The customer recognizes the need, but it isn’t a high priority at this time. (We realize that our billing needs are changing and our current system will need to be revamped. We plan to start looking into this in the next year.)
- Currently met. The customer believes it already has an adequate solution to address the need at this time but recognizes it may not be a long-term solution. (We have an older billing system in place that still does the trick for now.)
- None. The customer simply has no need nor expects such need anytime soon. (Our small practice has a limited number of patients who pay out of pocket. Since all payments are made at the time of service, we simply don’t need a complex new billing system.)
This focus on the urgency of target customers’ needs may sound like common sense, but we have found in our work with B2B companies — from mid-sized firms to Fortune 50 giants in an array of industries such as financial services, enterprise information technology, utilities, industrial solutions, and health care technology — that they often fail to consider this dimension. Here is a process a firm can employ to apply this approach.
Identify new customers.
To identify prospects outside of your existing customer base, you can use available information. One is a source we mentioned: help-wanted ads that reflect a particular need.
But there are plenty of others. For instance, if a company sells inventory management solutions, a source of valuable data might be manufacturing industry merger-and-acquisition data, which could reveal companies with an urgent need to change or merge systems such as those for managing inventories. If a company sells quality-management solutions, a source of valuable data could be companies that are getting hammered for poor quality on social media.
Gather the necessary information.
Identifying your customers’ true urgency of needs requires looking beyond your typical demographic and firmographic profiling. This starts with an outreach initiative to talk to customers and prospects. The purpose is to ask questions to identify new target customer parameters that may be impacting the customer’s urgency of needs:
- Frustrations. How urgent is the need to resolve these frustrations? Which frustration would best accelerate success if resolved?
- Goals. Are your goals clear, consistent, reasonable, and measurable? Have your goals shifted recently?
- Roadblocks. What keeps you from reaching your goals? (i.e., What keeps you up at night?) What is the magnitude of the impact of these roadblocks?
- Environmental and situational factors. Are you experiencing any industry consolidation, organizational or executive management changes or instability, competitive changes, regulatory changes, and so on? What is the magnitude of the impact of these factors?
- Technology factors. Are there new or changing technologies that will impact your ability to achieve your goals? Are you at risk due to technology end-of-life issues or incompatibility?
Assess your firm’s ability to serve lower-level segments.
Once a company has performed its needs-based segmentation effort, it should seek to answer the following questions about each of the four levels. The findings will dictate the sales and marketing strategy, level of investment and resource allocations.
Level 1. Urgent need
How quickly can we meet their need? How can we best serve them? Is the market opportunity large enough to focus only on these prospective customers? Given the customer’s urgency, how do we price our products to optimize margins without damaging relationships by appearing exploitive?
Level 2. Non-urgent need
Can we convince them that their need is more urgent than they currently believe? How do we effectively stay in touch with them so we remain top of mind when they perceive that their need has become urgent?
Level 3. Need currently met
Should we walk away from these prospects? If so, when and how do we touch base with them to see if their needs have changed? Or is there an opportunity to continue to work to convince them that their need is either more significant than they realize or could be much better addressed? If so, what’s the best approach to get them to reconsider their current situation and recognize their true need and its urgency?
Level 4. No need
Should we completely remove these contacts as any potential prospect? Is there some other need we may be able to address for them — perhaps with another product? Should we be in contact on a planned basis to see if their situation has changed? How do we best do that?
The ideal customers are those who clearly understand and recognize they have an urgent need for your offering. However, if that opportunity is not enough to meet the company’s sales volume target, it may be necessary to extend efforts beyond Level 1. Gaining the attention of these additional target customers, challenging their perceptions of their needs, and educating them on how your offering could benefit them will require resources. Consequently, a critical assessment is required to determine whether the opportunity outweighs the investment necessary to address customers in these other levels.
Test your new targets.
Before committing to a complete revamp of how your salespeople are prioritizing opportunities, select one or two experienced salespeople to help you test your new target customer parameters. Identify a few prospects that align to your revamped target profiles, and see how the selected salespeople are able to penetrate them.
Revamp your sales messaging and training.
Include prospective customers’ level of need in your sales messaging — the language that the sales team uses in its interactions with customers. Revamp your sales tools (materials such as brochures, technical papers, and customer testimonials used in the selling process) to include the urgency of need. And teach salespeople how to read and react to the prospective customer’s level of need and adapt their language appropriately.
By adding urgency of need to target customers’ profiles, companies can do more than differentiate their offerings more effectively. They can also identify new growth opportunities and successfully pivot away from slowing or tightening markets. They can accelerate the sales of new products. Last but not least, they can turn underachieving sales teams into strong performers.
11 Ways Tech Adoption Impacts your Small Biz Growth
Small businesses rely heavily on technology to drive development and innovation. Adopting the correct technological solutions can help to streamline processes, increase efficiency, improve client experiences, and create a competitive advantage in the market.
In this post, we will look at how technology contributes to the growth and success of small enterprises.
1. Streamlining Operations
Implementing small business technology solutions can automate and streamline various aspects of small business operations. This includes using project management software, customer relationship management (CRM) systems, inventory management tools, and accounting software. Streamlining operations not only saves time and reduces manual errors but also allows small businesses to allocate resources more efficiently.
Tip: Regularly assess your business processes and identify areas that can be automated or improved with technology. This continuous evaluation ensures that your technology solutions remain aligned with your evolving business needs.
2. Enhancing Customer Engagement
Technology enables small businesses to engage and connect with their customers more effectively. Social media platforms, email marketing software, and customer service tools allow businesses to communicate and build relationships with their target audience. Customer relationship management systems help businesses track customer interactions and preferences, providing insights to deliver personalized experiences and improve customer satisfaction.
Tip: Leverage data from customer interactions to create targeted marketing campaigns and personalized offers. Use automation tools to send timely and relevant messages to your customers, enhancing their engagement and loyalty.
3. Expanding Market Reach
The internet and digital marketing platforms provide small businesses with the opportunity to reach a broader audience beyond their local market. Creating a professional website, utilizing search engine optimization (SEO), and leveraging online advertising channels allow small businesses to attract and engage customers from different regions or even globally. E-commerce platforms enable businesses to sell products or services online, further expanding their market reach.
Tip: Continuously monitor and optimize your online presence to ensure your website is discoverable and user-friendly. Leverage analytics tools to track website traffic, visitor behavior, and conversion rates to make data-driven improvements.
4. Improving Decision-Making with Data
Technology provides small businesses with access to valuable data and analytics, enabling informed decision-making. Through data analysis, businesses can gain insights into customer behavior, market trends, and operational performance. This data-driven approach allows small businesses to make strategic decisions, optimize processes, and identify growth opportunities more effectively.
Tip: Invest in data analytics tools and dashboards that can consolidate and visualize your business data. Regularly review and analyze the data to uncover patterns, identify bottlenecks, and make data-backed decisions to drive growth.
5. Facilitating Remote Work and Collaboration
Advancements in technology have made remote work and collaboration more feasible for small businesses. Cloud-based tools, project management software, and communication platforms enable teams to work together efficiently, regardless of geographical location. This flexibility opens up opportunities to access talent from anywhere, increase productivity, and reduce overhead costs.
Tip: Establish clear communication protocols and project management workflows to ensure effective collaboration among remote teams. Use video conferencing tools for virtual meetings and foster a culture of transparency and accountability to maintain productivity and engagement.
6. Embracing Emerging Technologies
Small businesses should stay informed about emerging technologies that have the potential to transform their industries. Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain, and the Internet of Things can offer new opportunities for growth and innovation. Being open to adopting and integrating these technologies into your business strategy can give you a competitive advantage.
7. Data Security and Privacy
Data security and privacy are critical considerations when using technology in small businesses. Implement robust cybersecurity measures, such as firewalls, encryption, and secure data storage, to protect sensitive customer information and intellectual property. Regularly update software and educate employees on best practices for data security to minimize the risk of data breaches.
8. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Systems
A dedicated CRM system can help small businesses manage customer relationships more efficiently. It allows businesses to track customer interactions, store contact information, and monitor sales pipelines. Utilize CRM software to streamline sales and marketing processes, personalize customer interactions, and nurture long-term customer loyalty.
9. Continuous Learning and Skill Development
Encourage continuous learning and skill development among employees to keep up with technological advancements. Provide access to online courses, training resources, and workshops to enhance digital literacy and proficiency. Embrace a culture of learning and innovation to ensure your small business remains adaptable and competitive in the digital age.
10. Scalable and Flexible Technology Solutions
Choose technology solutions that are scalable and flexible to accommodate your growing business needs. Consider cloud-based software and platforms that allow you to easily scale up or down as your business evolves. This scalability enables small businesses to adapt to changing demands and seize new opportunities without significant disruptions.
11. Regular Technology Assessments
Regularly assess your technology infrastructure to ensure it aligns with your business goals and remains up to date. Conduct technology audits to identify areas for improvement, eliminate outdated systems, and explore new technologies that can drive growth. Stay proactive in evaluating and optimizing your technology stack to maximize its impact on your small business.
Technology serves as a catalyst for small business growth. By leveraging technology effectively and staying agile in an ever-evolving digital landscape, small businesses can unlock their full potential, adapt to changing customer expectations, and drive sustainable growth.
Nine Reasons Why Turning Down a Client Is the Best Option for Your Business
While your business may not be right for every client, every client may not be right for your business. To that end, what’s one sign you should turn down a client, and why?
These answers are provided by Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most successful young entrepreneurs. YEC members represent nearly every industry, generate billions of dollars in revenue each year, and have created tens of thousands of jobs. Learn more at yec.co.
1. The Client Has Unrealistic Expectations
Sometimes you’ll meet clients with unrealistic expectations — even when those expectations are incompatible with your products and services. They might demand services that you may not be able to deliver. Trying to keep such clients can often damage your relationship with them, encourage them to spread bad word-of-mouth, and hamper your reputation. Identifying such clients in time can prevent that.
s2. They’re Unresponsive
The number one way to tell if a client isn’t right for your business is if they are unresponsive. For client-business relationships to work, mutual understanding, communication, and respect are essential. If a client keeps pushing you aside when you need to clarify something for a project you’re working on for them, it may be time to move on at the end of the assignment.
3. They Complain During Every Step
An obvious sign that a client isn’t a good fit for your business is when they complain about your work every step of the way. I’ve encountered clients who complain because they think they will get a better price or free work. If they are truly unhappy, try to correct the mistake once or twice, and if that doesn’t work, give them a refund. Catering to toxic clients will not help you grow or succeed.
4. You’re Unable to Meet Their Needs
One should turn down a client whose expectations are hard to meet. They may not be in the wrong in the situation, and they have the right to expect certain things since they will be paying for the solutions offered. However, you should assess whether it will be possible for you to keep up with those expectations considering your current scale of operations or resources available.
5. They Exhibit a ‘Blame-Oriented’ Mindset
Watch for a “blame-oriented mindset” in your prospecting and sales conversations. Ask a question like, “What solutions or service providers have you tried before to solve this problem, and why didn’t they work?” Observe if the prospect takes any ownership for past failures or solely blames previous providers. Such an attitude is a clear sign of a lack of accountability and collaboration. Turn down such prospects!
6. They Constantly Dismiss Your Advice
Picture this: a client who insists on guiding you through uncharted territory while you hold the compass of expertise. When faced with a client who consistently dismisses your professional advice and insists on going against best practices, it’s time to question the compatibility of your collaboration. Remember: You’re the expert for a reason, and your recommendations should be valued.
7. They Aren’t Engaging in the Project
When a client consistently fails to provide the necessary resources, feedback or engagement required for a successful partnership, it’s time to hit pause. A one-sided relationship will leave you feeling like a solo artist in a duet. Seek clients who actively participate, collaborate and invest in the success of the projects you undertake together.
8. There Is Value or Goal Misalignment
Turn down clients if their values or goals are not aligned with your business. This can lead to conflicts and dissatisfaction and even damage your reputation. Focus on clients who share similar values and goals to maintain your brand’s integrity and benefit from the work you do for them.
9. They’re Always Adding ‘One More Thing’
You can tell a client is not right for your business, especially if you’re a freelancer, if they keep adding “one more thing” to the project. For instance, if you’re a writer and a client asks you to edit some of their other work “as a friend,” it may be time to end the partnership. This situation will lead to you doing tons of work and extra assignments for free, which was not the arrangement.
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