Looking back to look forward.
The end of the year is a time for reflection but when is the last time you asked someone ‘Does my gut look big in this?’
I’m going to take a wild guess and suggest the answer for you, and 99% of the readers of this magazine, is: ‘I’ve never asked that question and I don’t intend to’.
Now, I’m not about to suggest that you start going around asking people about your personal appearance. Your work mates may think that you’re suffering some type of strange mid-life crisis.
My point is: how much business navel-gazing have you done of late? When is the last time you asked your clients for honest feedback? In my view, asking the direct questions, and seeking genuine feedback (even when you’re not sure if you’re going to like the answer), could be one of the most effective things strategies you could employ to prepare for the coming year.
As an industry, after a difficult few years confidence is on the way up. The recent Property Council/ANZ Property Industry Confidence Survey; the country’s largest business confidence survey, shows that there is a growing positivity across the Australian property and construction sector. Whilst the industry as a whole may be on the up, individuals cannot become complacent or give up trying to compete.
Strangely, few consulting firms ever make the effort to find out what their clients want, and as a marketer, this spells business opportunity to me. In professional services, it’s not uncommon for a client to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees. And yet, rarely do consulting firms take the time to find out whether their clients are happy with the service they received.
After years of being the preferred construction company for a retail supermarket chain, the work just dried up. And the construction company’s management team had no idea why. “Let’s ask them,” I suggested. The CEO of the retail company was happy to meet with me, and we discovered that a project manager – one who had already moved on – had managed to offend nearly every one of the retail chain’s staff. When he left the receptionist in tears, they changed construction companies. “We really liked working with your organisation – we just didn’t like this one guy,” was how the CEO put it. No one in the construction company had any idea this was the issue. Once they understood, they could work things out – and were awarded contracts worth millions of dollars as a result.
A few hours of research – through surveys, interviews, or by simply talking to clients – can mean the difference between winning and losing millions of dollars of business and future-proofing the company for the months to come.
So why is market research such a powerful tool for professional firms? Is it really necessary for companies to look back in order to move forward?
1. Australians don’t complain – they just go elsewhere
Aussies don’t like dobbing in their mates to their bosses. Many people feel uncomfortable complaining about a business associate – especially when they are being asked for feedback from someone within the business. In most cases, they’ll just go elsewhere and your company will never know why. This is an expensive outcome when your client is worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. An objective outsider can often gain the vital information that those in your company are unlikely to hear.
2. Bad is good
CEOs and company directors are often worried that market research will uncover some bad news. “What if our clients say bad things about us? Do we really want to know?” Yes, you do! Ironically, the negative interviews are the most powerful. When someone is feeling unhappy with your company, and yet they are willing to spend up to an hour of their time sharing what’s gone wrong, it means they want something to be done. It means the problems can be fixed. If your company chooses to listen to this negative feedback, and makes a concerted effort to address the issues, the unhappy client tends to transform into a loyal, engaged one. They know, from experience, that it’s OK to speak up when they are unhappy, because their problems will be resolved. They become an evangelist for your business.
3. Your people are the brand
We’ve heard this one before, but do your clients actually enjoy working with your people? In any type of professional services business, the key client relationships are held not with the CEO, but with the people who deal with the clients on a daily basis. Your staff might be brilliant quantity surveyors, but those core skills don’t necessarily mean that they are great communicators, negotiators or marketers. These staff members can often unwittingly upset a client – usually through poor communication, taking an adversarial approach or simply by not meeting the client’s expectations. Without providing your client with a channel to resolve this, you may lose the client – and never know why.
4. Don’t spend a cent on marketing until you know what your clients want
Rather than trying to second guess what marketing strategies will most appeal to your clients – ask them. How do they like to receive their communication? What are the growth areas in their business? Where do they see the opportunities for collaboration? When asked in the right way, your clients will tell you these answers. From there, a highly-customised, clever and creative marketing and business strategy can be developed to meet these needs and opportunities. As one interview subject said to me recently, “the gold will be found in the creativity, not in the engine room.”
A commitment to ongoing dialogue underpins all client relationships. Traditional marketing relies on ‘pushing out’ a message in the hope that it will influence market opinion. Smart marketing and communication campaigns that begin with client research gives clients the chance to influence company priorities and can improve decision-making and accountability.
The bottom line is simple. In a tough market, winning new business is costly in terms of both time and money – and the odds of winning new work are lower, as more people compete for fewer projects. The bulk of new work comes from existing clients and referrals – and the key to securing loyal clients is to know them inside out. And how can you possibly know what they want if you don’t ask?
Director, Tin Shed Marketing
Nicole is the driving force and founder of Tin Shed Marketing (www.tinshed.co), a cooperative of highly specialised and creative people that together offer a unique alternative to the traditional marketing and PR agency model. Unlike other agencies, Tin Shed is lean, agile and able to deliver the complete array of marketing projects from short films to websites, infographics, branding, graphic design, marketing collateral, new business presentations and the list goes on.
With a degree in Communication (PR/Sociology), Nicole is an integrated communication specialist with over twenty years experience in marketing, PR and advertising. She specialises in the development and implementation of strategic communication campaigns and new business development and project submissions for a range of clients from builders to developers, financiers, agents, architects, project managers, industry associations and lawyers.
Prior to establishing Tin Shed, Nicole was a founding partner in Trilogy Integrated Communication where she established a niche specialisation in the property and construction industry. She has developed an enviable network within the industry and within key industry organisations such as the Property Council of Australia (PCA), the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and the Australian Institute of Architects (AIA). Nicole was the author of the Trilogy Property Pulse research report, an analysis of resident’s attitudes to development in their cities. This study received widespread publicity and helped to enact change in awareness and attitudes towards issues such as sustainability and community within the property industry.
Nicole takes a research-driven approach to marketing. She acts as a strategic advisor to a select number of clients and she is also a speaker and educator on the subject of marketing, and is also a regular writer for Wealth Creator magazine and Consult Australia.
This article was first published in the December 2013 edition of The Building Economist. To see the original article, click here.