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Improve client focus through online working

Interesting, yet confronting figures from two independent surveys conducted by Salesforce and by Rain Group. In short, respondents in both surveys indicate a substantial lack of customer focus, especially in the B2B market. This might sound surprising as the business to business market is the textbook example for doing business on a personal basis, offering solutions and not selling products. Reality, as perceived by the responding decision makers, is quite different from that textbook.

What do decision makers say

First, let’s take a look at some figures, Rain group produces similar outcomes, In their top-3 of top-influencing factors for buying professional services, a lack of client focus immediately stands out:

71% of client organizations highly value the ‘discovery of their concerns, wants and needs’ as being highly influential to the buying process.

68% of buyers say they are being influenced by professionals that are able to provide them solutions to their issues and show what’s possible.

Another 68% of buyers simply want to be listened to in the sales process. And in their perception, only one in four of sales people are effective listeners.

In addition, the Salesforce report, compares between what clients expect and how they perceive the way they’re being serviced and sold to:

85% of B2B respondents expect from their providers a clear insight in their organization. But 57% of decision makers find that the people trying to sell them their services or products have insufficient knowledge about core processes and activities.

66% of B2B buyers expect a tailored solution, created to solve their issue. A mere 63% of buyers perceives a ‘product-orientation’ in stead of a ‘solution focus’.

86% of B2B executives expect to be serviced by a trusted advisor. Still, 73% feels that the sales process is much more transactional than being advised.

This resonates directly with some of the statements given in private talks I’ve held with people in the Dutch professional services sector. Like a senior Business Developer for a major law firm who said: "we need to change towards more outside-in thinking, our lawyers are still too much focused on their professional expertise and much less on what the clients thinks”. A somewhat similar reference to this was made by someone in another firm saying that “our partners feel that ,,sales is a bit below our status'', saying it’s the client who needs to call us, not the other way around”.

Making use of the shift towards online working

These sector insights could easily trigger further, more detailed analysis of why professional services firms still maintain a focus on their services and expertise and lacking the ability to make their clients feel special and helped in the sales process. Instead, I’d like to take a different approach.

Without claiming a silver bullet, there is a huge opportunity in the current transformation most of us have been forced into. As we have entered new ways of communicating, mainly through video calling, and we have gotten used to working from home, we are now reconsidering new work routines. And here lie some valuable starting point to improve on being client-centric.

Redesign sales processes, using both tools and templates

Accountants, lawyers and advisors have adapted to online working and use video calls to connect with their clients. New relationships have been established without having met face to face. But there is a huge gap between the possibilities offered by online collaboration tools and current practice. Although using Zoom or Teams is considered a huge step for most firms (as it is in other sectors), online collaboration can be improved much more.

One of the elements in having more interactive client conversations is the use of online whiteboards. (my favorite ones are Miro and Mural but they come in many flavors). Whiteboards allow participants in an online meeting to engage in sharing ideas, thoughts and analysis in a more visual and attractive manner. The meeting suddenly becomes much more interactive, mostly due to the fact that all participants can interact simultaneously, instead of the ‘one-person-talking-at-a-time’ restriction in Teams or Zoom. Like a Big4-manager at the end of a meeting I hosted saying “this has been the most interactive meeting I’ve had since lockdown”.

And you can take it even a step further by using templates to steer the discussion in an online meeting. For instance, you can use a checklist to make sure you’re being complete, or you can use a matrix or scale to sort your ideas. An obvious example I often use, is applying the Value Proposition Canvas

in sales meetings. Using this graphical model in Miro invites the accountant or lawyer as well as the client, to share business issues, ‘pains & gains’ and only then to talk about possible solutions. So, you can guide the order in which the items are being discussed. Without being coercive, using these kind of templates can help professionals in doing business the way you want them to.

So, with technical solutions ready to implement, the only thing that needs attention is that it fits the overall way-of-working in the firm. Professionals working with clients need to be introduced to working with these kind of tools and the sales process will need some redesign. Just copying the physical sales meeting into an online variant won’t do the trick. But these investments, in both time and money, are relatively small as these tools are very user-friendly. And the opportunities are infinite. So don’t waste your time on analyzing how we all ended up here, being not focused enough on the client. Start making it better than it was.

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