Sometimes when you think you are in a conversation with your clients, you really aren’t. We often ask our clients, “When did you last speak to your clients or key stakeholders outside of any project engagement or sales conversations – you know, just general business-as-usual conversations?” The answer is it rarely happens.
Every business needs a mechanism to speak to their key stakeholders on a regular basis. They also need to provide a channel where their clients can be brutally honest. There are times when no one likes to be on the receiving end of complete honesty; however, such frankness is where the opportunity sits for your business to improve.
We have stakeholder engagement surveys operating in the field all the time on behalf of our clients. Independent and impartial conversations are the best way of finding out what is really going on in your perceived relationships. Our good clients let us speak to their clients so we can check out whether what they are telling us about their business is true. Our process is to ask you to benchmark yourself; we then ask your clients to benchmark you and we look for the key drivers and performance gaps in attitudinal behaviours. Simple – the gaps create opportunities for our clients.
For example, we recently asked in a survey, “If our client came to you with new products would you buy from them?” We listed a range of products that our client could offer, over and above their core product, and the respondents gave an overwhelming ‘yes’ – on the proviso that this did not distract from the delivery of their core product on which their business relies. We are now busy looking at a product launch strategy for our client that could increase their revenues by who knows how much.
We have also been working with a client who possibly has the most glowing feedback in terms of how they deliver to their clients that I have ever heard – the problem they have is if you have never worked with them, it’s likely that you’ll never have heard of them. The answer? They need to build integrated marketing channels.
Their clients told us they like hearing their stories – examples of their work and how they achieve the results they do. Our client told us, “We are not sales people; we don’t like to bother people.” We told them, “Your clients WANT to see and hear more from you – with interesting stories of how you deliver complex and challenging projects.”
Engaging with your stakeholders means you value their feedback – in the main, their intent is to help you serve them better. If you ask the right questions they will tell you where you can improve; they will tell you what is important to them and even how much better it needs to be so you can invest in ‘being better’, at the appropriate level. No need for investment or huge, innovative changes if all they want you to do is return a call within 60 minutes. The flipside of that is you could put light years between you and your competitors if you innovate in your market and own the position of leader. Your stakeholders are the benchmark of what’s going on out there.
It can be a brutal reality check – but it can also take your stakeholder engagement to new levels. There is one ‘buyer beware’ - do the work and ignore the results at your peril!