Recently the good folks at HubSpot asked me to provide some insight on how Top Line Results engages our clients to report results and how this impacts client management, referrals, and growing our business. The following are some of the thoughts I shared with a big homage going out to Alan Weiss, the king of value based fees thinking and one of my personal heroes.
The big thing with results and reporting them is to make sure they are aligned with the client's goals....not yours. For example, no business owner sets a high level goal of getting more organic traffic, they set sales goals. We report traffic, connect immediately to leads, and then to sales. NEVER assume that the customer will make this leap on their own. Connect the dots for them or as my wife tells me all the time "I need to put the dots pretty close together for you, don't I!".
Never sell traffic or eyeballs or views...sell revenue and meeting client goals and back up from there.
Sell strategy, explain tactics.
Never sell tactics, and explain strategy.
# 1 Sell them on the fact that you can chart a path to their goals
# 2 Be the expert and know the tactics that lead to achieving their goals
# 3 Tell them why you/they are doing something in relation to thier goals.
This week I visited a client in Los Angeles and one of the big action items was to work with the internal team to set up a system of gathering application info for blog posts and web pages.
# 1 I have explained the strategy to the owner of why blogging works and helps them achieve their goals using data and real examples,
# 2 We have done this with other clients and can show the steps to make it happen and the resources needed
# 3 We will teach the team that giving us the relevant application info generates blog posts, which leads to search ranking, to more searches, to more leads to more sales.
Now the team is giving me the info to drive corporate goals not some arbitrary effort that is just one more task added to the never ending pile of stuff to do. I explained the tactics after I sold the strategy. Now the team will have buy in and pride in seeing the sales goals met. In fact the owner may tie compensation into hitting some revenue targets for key people as a way to motivate them to provide the information and expertise that leads to content that leads to increased sales.
Communicate early and often every success that reinforces your strategy which thus reinforces your expertise and the reason they hired you (making them feel smart and reaffirm that they made a good decision to hire you). These successes also become the content of the stories the client will tell to their circle of influence leading to referrals for you.
Never sell tactics (best SEO juice, newest this, fastest that, special technique, whatever), sell strategy built with expertise and tested by experience.
One question HubSpot asked was "How often do you read out progress or data on projects to management to your client firms? What is your standard practice - does it vary, or do you build readouts into your contracts?"
Yes we add results reporting in our agreements since results are the basis of the agreement. I usually say 'regular updates' as opposed to a strict schedule.
We report results regularly since they are basis of the agreement. I try to mention something we did or something that happened relating to results every time I talk to a client.
I get a copy of every lead that converts for all of our clients and will send a quick note if I see something interesting. We set up processes that connect leads to sales...sometimes as simple as a spreadsheet of leads and we go through the list and note the ones that bought. Ideally we set up connections between the lead generation side and the customer management tools so that we have automated closed loop results reporting.
We also recommend using a website only phone number to get a correct count of leads generated by inbound marketing and online development.
We do an annual review with clients where the rubber hits the road...they paid us X and grew by Y. We then look at next year, which always happens when we show how we impacted revenue growth this year.
An example, one client we started with in early 2010, grew 25% in 2010 and entering 2011 has their largest backlog ever. My fee is never a problem with this client and he always takes my calls.
In fact they referred me to another client and after two phone calls the referral hired us at a rate 50% higher than the original client doing about the same work. Results leads to referrals. Results raise fees....if you have the guts to ask...and the skill to deliver.
Another reason to communicate results regularly is that goals and perceptions of success change. Engagements often end up in far different places than expected at the beginning so you better be moving with the client - or moving them to a better strategic goal. The worst situation is to think you are delivering but the client be unimpressed by the results - this is 100% the service providers fault.
Communicating regularly also allows the customer to think about how they are receiving your value and generating results - reinforcing the initial buy decision on a regular basis. This is critical because outside resources/consultants/service providers are often viewed negatively by internal team members who will get in the boss's ear about cost, how they don't need you, or any other number of negative things - make the consultant look bad to make themselves look better. If the client has solid results fresh in mind they will slam this type of attitude immediately. I see this at some of my clients and I almost always win over the team by showing them how to generate results that make them all look good. We get the credit anyway it happens and if the team likes me and appreciates what I do for them then they are going to support an ongoing relationship. I have seen a number of good consultants get out flanked by a jealous influencer on the inside and lose the client - regular results focus makes this much harder to do.
No one cares about my experience or my processes - they care about themselves and the results I can help them achieve. Those other things help establish credibility but the client only buys the results so you must keep selling those achieved results to them.