Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Know the Client - Know the Organization

Has a client ever said to you, "great proposal, this is what I want," only to learn later that your client wasn't making the decision? (And whoever was, you had no contact.) Result?  We know.

How could we not know the way decisions get made?

Unfortunately, it happens all the time. Because decision making, like all organizational functions, integrates three foundational areas that we rarely get a good handle on: an organization's principles, people and processes. So we end up making assumptions,  developing solutions and delivering presentations that miss the mark.

We can do better. A system exits to assess the organization's 3P's - the principles, people and processes - and use that information to improve performance.

Consider these actions:
  • Understand the Organization's Principles: These are the guiding ideas and values that impact the organization. Some are stated, like "collaboration" might be in a mission statement; others may not be, like "risk-taking" or "fiscal conservatism." Some are positive and some not, but all drive organization culture. Knowing these principles and how they impact organizational behavior will improve solution development and client relationships.
  • Assess the Organization's People: This may seem obvious but the importance of the human dynamic cannot be overstated. Sure, we get to know our clients kids' names, but are we aware of the web of relationships that affect our client? Can we be sure who really has power? Who are the "informal" leaders. Do we know who likes whom, who likes to work together?  Who has the knowledge, the history? 
  • Know the Organization's Processes: To know how an organization operates, the totality of all its processes, is a daunting task. But there are some key processes that we should be very familiar with. Decision making is a big hairy one.  Purchasing is obvious, but how about career development? Knowing what your client needs to do to advance her career might be very helpful information. Planning, budgeting, technology implementation, customer feedback, sales - all critical processes to know. 
Armed with this information, we can design productive and fun client interactions. We can deliver better services and products. We can reduce errors and time to cover mistakes. Improve client retention. Make more money.

So, how do you access and apply this information? You know a bunch already.  Stay post will serve up some tools all can use.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Four Steps To Improve Client Relationships and Interactions

In the Diving Journal's last post I explored the components of client interactions,  the building blocks of a client relationship. Below is a method that can help improve client relationships and their interactions in a systematic way.

It's called the Client Relationship Improvement Process (CRIP) and serves as a four-step cycle focused on improving interactions and their component parts. 
The goal: increase client retention and grow revenue.

  • What is the context of the client relationship? Assess the organizational culture, structure, decision-making processes, internal relationships, etc.
  • What are the client’s desires, expectations, needs and skills (both stated and unstated) related to interactions? What is the client’s readiness to engage in the interaction? Ask, listen and observe. Focus on the message, medium and style.
  • Define which interactions to improve. Prioritize based on impact of change and ease of implementation.
  • Design and deliver the best interactions for the client and situation, based on the assessment.
  • Evaluate the interactions by capturing feedback about performance and value.
  • Determine what’s worked and what hasn’t.
  • Document, share, practice those interactions that work best.
  • Prepare to cycle through again.

The CRIP focuses on improving  interactions, those "hows" of a of client relationship that are too often ignored or, at best, dealt with on a crisis basis. With a little practice, account and project leaders can learn to lead clients, not just react to them.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Bumper Car World of Client Relationships

Most approaches to improving client relationships are like bumper car rides: you scream, hit and move on. I believe there is a better way.

But first, what is a client relationship? It’s really the sum of all interactions (physical, verbal, virtual) between a firm/agency and a client. Interactions include a purpose or “what” is to be accomplished, like approval of a design concept. They also consist of the manner or “how” the interaction occurs, like showing a video of a concept at a meeting. The ultimate purpose of an interaction is for two parties to get something done.

Client relationships and their interactions are valued and measured on both the “what” and the “how.” Unfortunately, most clients and their agencies/firms pay a lot of attention to the “what” and not to the “how.” Failing at either gets you fired.

What’s in the “how?” It’s all the interactions with a client, each comprised of a message, medium and style. The message includes the ideas and concepts about the actual thing or product, like a design or a plan. Medium is about the vehicle used to deliver a message, like email or an in-person conversation. Style refers to the manner or way you deliver the message:  the appearance, emotion, volume and frequency. 

In the end, you have an interaction formula that looks like this: 


Creating better client relationships is about working this formula and focusing on the messages, mediums and styles in interactions. 

My next post will explain a simple method for improving these interactions. Stay tuned by signing up for Diving Journal email updates above.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

It's True! Design Does Matter...for Everyone.

Note: this post has little to do with client retention or client relationships but has a lot to do with leadership: creating conditions for creativity to blossom so people's lives improve. Something every client, agency and design firm wishes for itself.

I recently attended a family reunion in Bloomington, Indiana. The host cousins planned a field trip to Columbus, Indiana, a town of 40,000. I’d never heard of Columbus but probably should have. Why? Because it's ranked sixth in the nation by the American Institute of Architects for its innovative building designs. Only Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. rank higher.  Architects like I.M. Pei, Richard Meir, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Deborah Burke and others have designed fabulous buildings there – including corporate, religious and civic.

But all this is a small town in southern Indiana!

How did it happen?

The buildings are one thing. But the real story here is about the leaders and community members who created a vision of Columbus as a design showcase, a city that believes great design matters. A consensus developed that attention to design makes better lives…for everyone.

Even more amazing is that the community has sustained this value for over 70 years.

Apparently, the design-minded leaders of Cummins Diesel, which is headquartered in Columbus, proposed a deal to the community back in the early 1940’s. Cummins would pay the architect fees for public buildings if the company could select the architect. This led to commissions with the world’s leading designers to strut their stuff in Columbus. Over the years, community leaders followed suit with both religious and private buildings. The community saw the impact of great design in people's lives and design thinking became a community standard.

For those even modestly interested in architecture and design, don’t miss a visit to Columbus, Indiana.