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Factor Number Seven: Not Enough Collaboration

by Kevin D. Crone

December 7, 2015

Years ago, I acted as a business coach for a large, successful engineering firm who wanted to double their business. With my help, the leadership team created a new compelling vision of who they were in the marketplace. Then we set up seven innovation teams who took up the work of creating new ways to be more valuable to their clients (similar to the process we discussed last week). One of the teams worked on a project they called ‘client collaboration.’ The team examined the way large project work was done in relation to their vision, the mental constructs in their way, and the existing paradigms that shaped their actions. With that knowledge, they began to map out a new design of how they would collaborate with clients on every project. One senior executive had a fabulous experience following that model with a large project, while others had to battle through it until they could see the results for themselves.Experience_Innovation - resized3

All of us learned things that I will share with you today that back up a recent study we conducted with 500 business leaders from 12 countries, including 60 in-depth interviews. The research study revealed the importance of innovation and ways to internalize it throughout an organization. It revealed that the client experience is the number one opportunity to innovate and leads to the most growth and repeat business.

There’s a perfect storm brewing through recent developments in the marketplace that make it easier than ever for customers to find and defect to a competitor, even as employees constantly scan the job market for a better opportunity. This undermines innovation efforts and it behoves all service organizations to implement and engage their teams in what we call, “Client experience innovation.”

What was revealed in this collaborative, focused team?

• Clients don’t care about what you know. They want to know that you care. These aren’t just philosophical words. Clients move on if they don’t feel we get them and their situation.

• Professionals who bill for their technical knowledge and expertise and are rewarded for hourly client billings are not wired to being collaborative. They think the’re hired to build things, not help a client build their business.

• Studying a client’s business, what they’re doing in the marketplace, their challenges, strategies, goals and looking for insights from these trends and pressures that affect them is an important pre-project habit. Few do this. Then, from their expertise around these insights, it’s important they facilitate client team dialogues that help the clients connect the dots as to what else they need to focus on. Clients appreciate this, want it, and this focus is required more than ever today. The clients want a trusted advisor – someone to help them grow their business not just do engineering work. They can get that anywhere.

• Presenting those insights in a compelling way and facilitating a project design that met everyone’s needs at many levels, wasn’t what the competent, technical engineers were comfortable with. They were used to doing the talking and telling the client what to do. After all, they were paid for their knowledge and technical skill. They had to learn and experience how to become genuinely interested in what their clients wanted at many levels. They needed to be truly listening, engaging and supportive especially before any project began and throughout the project. They needed to create a mutual design of how they were going to work together including periodic feedback sessions and goal-setting. They needed to know every player and their unique interests. They had to answer, “Who are our customers really and what are their specific issues, what are they going through and what do they need and want.” They needed to keep those answers in mind, remind themselves of them and use them as a background of their project. They needed to create innovative solutions along the way and were more able to when the client was involved. They needed to become a true team.

• They needed to be competent at thinking through, presenting and leading dialogues around business cases that focused on outcomes of the project and were tied into the client’s business strategies. To some professionals, all this sounded hokey, and took no time for it while travelling the world and didn’t appreciate it until they expanded their comfort zone and truly became a trusted advisor by working on these client-experience behaviours. When they actually coached versus telling, when they facilitated rather than arrogantly advising, they began to see better client reactions, less complaints about fees, and found themselves closer to what the client actually wanted as well as what they needed. Of course, repeat, big contracts were and always will be the result.

• Every touch point with the client meant something, was examined and improved on while they still faced the technical demands of the project. They were truly working on the client experience as their key strategy to make their aggressive acquisition strategy profitable. They more than doubled their business. Over time, it would be easy to forget all these lessons. To stay in or retreat unknowingly back into their comfort zones and not become more confident at being a collaborator, facilitator and sometimes coach. To not become more you-oriented. To not apply and keep developing trusted advisor skills and just rely on technical skills alone.

Whether you have met this new client expectation or not, or need to get started at it, you need to raise your game again and again, but especially today. Every firm talks this game but few actually do it. I realize I’m describing a professional service organization, but do some of these insights apply to those of you who aren’t in one?

How about you and your team? How serious are you? Are you raising your client-experience game? Are you facilitating with your client the mapping out of how they want to be treated on a project before it begins?

Do you know their business strategies, pressures, goals, needs, peculiar interests and expectations? Do you conduct feedback sessions with the client around business outcomes, goals and strategies?

Does your team study your client’s business? Are they uncovering what a client needs on the project or in the future that maybe even a client hasn’t thought through yet? Are they presenting these insights at the beginning of new projects? Are they adding the value the clients expect by facilitating, and coaching around these insights?

Have you mapped out every touch point and are working on the improvements necessary to truly being trusted advisors? Are you expanding your people’s comfort zones and training, developing and coaching them to be ‘you oriented’, a communicator, engager, facilitator, and coach – an ambassador of the exceptional client experience?

Are you expanding or reducing your training budget?

What’s your action?

Next week, the rubber hits the road for management… Factor Eight: How managers don’t drive change.

Have a great week!

Kevin D. Crone
Dale Carnegie Business Group
(905) 826-7300 / 1-800-361-2032

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