A case study on how a Principa member worked with the team of a small client to kick off a business development project

For background on the case the client was a  £350,000 light engineering partnership paying annual accounting fees of around £800.  We’ll let the business development manager in the firm take over the story…

“I was alerted by the partner looking after the client that he was a potential for Business Development work but had shown little interest when a BD project was raised by the partner.  The client was in his 50’s, working far too much and looking to pass on the business to his son (who also worked in the business) in 5 or 6 years.

The business had grown steadily, and he had built up a good Team.

We had a preliminary meeting with the client to establish some background and identify some of the challenges they were facing.  The meeting lasted just over two hours.  By asking probing questions we were able to identify the key concern of the client — the business relied to heavily on him and he was not getting any input from his team.

The transformation in the client was remarkable once we had identified that key concern.  The profit improvement potential was not the big turn on for him, so had I persisted with that route I would have got nowhere.  Once I found that key concern, I was able to ask questions like this:

“What would be the implications for you if you were able to train your team to think like you do?”

“How important would that be for you?”

“What would be the effect on your business if we could work with you to systematize your operations so that they didn’t rely on you being there all the time?”

“How would that impact on you personally?”

When the client had thought through the implications of those questions, he was then ready to commit to the next stage, which was a Planning Session.

I asked him to complete the Business Development Questionnaire and we reconvened for the Planning Session two weeks later.  As we could have predicted, working with the team was very high on the list of priorities on the action plan, as was establishing a management control plan within the business.

I want to focus here on the work I did with his team as I believe there are some lessons to be learnt from it.  Here was my proposal to the client of the work I would do.

I would run a half day session with his entire Team.  At the session we would cover these topics:

  • An Introduction to the Session
  • A look at the numbers — show the Team the last five years’ accounts and a broad brush forecast.
  • A look at the potential within the business using the PIP software, focusing, on the productivity module.
  • A brainstorm on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of the business.
  • A brainstorm on changing paradigms…why do they do things the way they do and how can they do things better and smarter.
  • Inverting the pyramid…having the Team tell us how the Boss ran the business — and what might be a better way…
  • …and finishing off with a motivational talk about delegation, Teamwork and focusing on profit rather revenue.  This was based around having them look at the effect of discounting and wastage on the gross profit.  I had managed to persuade the boss to base his bonus scheme on gross profit rather than revenue, so this tied in well.

I told him the work would cost £2,000 plus VAT including all training materials and was fully guaranteed…if he didn’t perceive the value, he could pay us what he felt it was worth.

His initial reaction (even after the planning session) was negative. He didn’t see how the process would be worth £2,000 to him and was particularly wary about divulging the numbers stuff to his Team.  But I managed to get him to go away and think about it — the process was guaranteed so what had he to lose?

He called me the day after to say he’d thought about it and was going to do it.  He said, though, that he thought it would be very hard work for me as he would be surprised if any of his Team talked!

So I suggested that to break down the barriers I would go and have a drink with his team a couple of weeks before the session.  We went to their local pub after work and I sat down with them and explained why we were doing the session and what was in it for them.

I was still extremely nervous when I got up there on the day!

I had no need to be!  After my half hour introductory talk I handed the floor to the Team — and they wouldn’t shut up!  We went through 10 sheets of flipchart paper with ideas they had for improving systems in the business, becoming more efficient, how they could work smarter, great marketing ideas for the business and so on.

The boss was amazed at the input his Team had.  He said he never knew they even thought about the business when they came to work.  And the session framed the Towards Awesome Service program which we subsequently ran with the client beautifully.

The fact that the Team came up with the ideas inspired them to implement them — and they’re well on course for exceeding the goals they set after the session (naturally, we’re working with him on a monthly basis to monitor his management control plan) meaning the owner is well on course to retire when he wants to.

Looking back, the one thing I would have done differently would have been to run a Customer Advisory Board BEFORE working with the team – [this is something we recommend]***.  That way, I would have been able to refer to comments made by the clients which would have either validated what the team were saying or would have alerted them if they were on the wrong track.

*** But another way to do that is to run a CAB as soon as possible after the meeting with the team and run the ideas they had shared past the customers at the meeting to get their input.

If anything, I undercharged him…but it’s easy to say that in hindsight!”

It’s a great story, isn’t it?  Here are the key messages from it:

  • If you have a partner compensation structure in your firm which encourages you to “hoard” clients, you are restricting the possibilities in your firm.  In this case, the partner could not hook the client and chose to position the business development manager as an expert.  It worked well.
  • Make sure that when you’re in an Initial Consultation Meeting (Journey Meeting) with a client, you listen attentively to what the client has to say.  This is critically important.  Remember what Ric says at Boot Camp.  You will be able to se, in their eyes if they are ready to buy.  If you don’t see it, you haven’t identified their key concern.  Keep asking questions and listening to their response until you find that concern.  Then (and only then) go for the close.
  • If your client says no, it’s likely he does not really mean no forever, he most likely means not now!  If you are convinced your client will get value from the work you’re doing, keep at it. You will be doing the client a disservice not to do so.

One way to make sure you get another chance is to say “I appreciate that you have given me some time to discuss this project and I fully understand that you are not ready to go ahead with it at this time. However, would it be OK if I connect with you next year to see if a change in circumstances might have given you cause to re-consider. I ask this out of respect and because I really do feel we can help, and it would be remis of me not to explore that with you again.”

  • If you are working with a “less sophisticated” client, you could find the approach taken here of visiting the factory, talking with the team, maybe going for a drink with them then running a team advisory session BEFORE you run Towards Awesome Service might work better than simply launching into Towards Awesome Service.  If you can think of a client where you have not run Towards Awesome Service because you are afraid of the reaction you’ll get from your client’s team, maybe this approach could be relevant for you.
  • Scheduling a Customer Advisory Board as the first step after a planning session is almost always relevant, even in cases where the development of a Customer Service Strategy is not at the top of the list.  As the business development manager outlines in the case study, had he facilitated a Customer Advisory Board first he would have been able to use the feedback from that to validate the performance standards they would generate from the Towards Awesome Service training.
  • No client is too small!  If there’s potential for management or marketing leverage, if you can identify your client’s key concern you should be able to position the value of a planning session to that client.

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