Here are my top five resolutions for my consulting clients in 2016:
Stop talking about price
I know why your customers want to talk about price – it’s because YOU do. Stop it. Most negotiations introduce the subject of pricing far too early in the conversation. Your top priority is to establish the expected value, customer priorities, timing, and terms of the transaction before finishing up with an agreement on the price.
Instead of prices, talk about what your brand stands for. Tell a story that supports the brand image and illustrates how price-focused decisions can undermine needed value. When the customer tries to turn the discussion towards the money – pause, and ask why. Explain that you can’t supply a price without more complete information. Be ready with clarifying questions!
Drop a Customer Segment
I’m not kidding. Somewhere in your numbers is irrefutable evidence that a (hopefully) small subset of customers takes too much time for too little return. You probably already have a few examples in mind. It is not necessary to “fire” the customer – though that has a certain romanticism about it. All you need to do is alter some pricing, limit their access to your resources, and learn how to say ‘no’ to unreasonable requests. Less than ideal customers will either de-select themselves or they may surprise you and adapt to the changes and become a better customer. Either way you win.
Then take the extra resources and energy you just freed up and apply it to your best customer segment. Perhaps the next resolution would be a good project.
Ask for Testimonials and Referrals
There is no better marketing than a strong testimonial from an existing customer. Most folks like giving accolades especially if they see that you use them well. Here’s a few ideas about how to get better testimonials: When you receive nice note or email from a client, immediately thank them and ask if you could share it. Explain how their name and title would make a huge impact. Then, ask to use their photo, corporate logo, or letterhead to enhance the endorsement. Add a paragraph that explains the project, include a quote from your CEO, and now you have a case study that you can share on your website or turn into a press release.
While you are at it, every one of your contacts knows someone else that has reason to use your services. Don’t just ask for a name, insist on an introduction. A simple email connection will work, but an invite to lunch or some other event is even better.
Perhaps the most mis-applied word in business is “busy”. It’s used to impede progress, avoid work, and self-promote, but it actually accomplishes none of those things. Instead, it simply makes work less efficient. Being busy is not about having too many things to do, it’s really about not having priorities in order. Here’s three ideas to get the ball rolling: Start by resetting the line of demarcation between normal and busy. Last month’s busy is this month’s new normal. Next, let some things slide. Often we spend too much time doing things we always do without considering that priorities may have changed. Do you have a spreadsheet that you always update that no one else uses? Yeah, I thought so. Finally, take away the busy excuse and give your employees more resources. When they say, “We need another employee,” ask, “What would they be doing right now?” If that thing is important, then hire someone, but identify a list of backlogged projects that you now expect to be cleared.
When adding resources you run the risk that the extra employee was not really needed. In other words, someone was whining about being busy when they really weren’t. Adding a new resource just made it easier to apply the next resolution.
Immediately Address Negative Employee Behaviors
Employees that use too much management time, express frustration inappropriately, or don’t apply processes consistently can suck the life out a business. For most of us, confronting a misbehaving or even a well-intentioned employee is uncomfortable. Use that energy to get the conversation started by saying, “As you know I don’t like uncomfortable conversations, but I need to have one with you right now.” Then, talk about how the employee behavior affects others, compromises the mission, and reflects on him or her. Say, “I hope that being frank about my concerns is all that is needed, but if there is something I can do to help you get better results, I would be happy to discuss.”
If you are concerned that the exchange might go off the rails or become personal, then focus on processes instead of behavior. If you are still afraid of how the employee might respond or simply can’t bring yourself to do the right thing, then seek outside counsel. Asking for help on a problem is a positive step towards addressing the issue.
How about you? What is your top management resolution for 2016?