by Brenda Hall, CEO
I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 12 years now and thankfully have made quite a few mistakes. That’s right—thankful, because I’ve corrected those mistakes when I could, and I’ve learned from all of them. Of course, reading words of wisdom from those who have gone before me was helpful, but I’d like to share of few thoughts of my own that you won’t learn from your accounting department or your CFO.
Bridge360 is a global software services company. We believe software can do anything, and I do mean anything. Technology is a marriage of hardware and software, and I don’t think any of us have seen anything yet! That said, we’re in business to grant our client’s wishes, and all of our client’s wishes are unique regardless of the service they ask of us.
Number 1: Each client is special and each has their own special need. Whether they are buying your product or a unique service you offer, each client should be considered according to their own unique business needs.
Number 2: Your clients are likely located all over the globe because they, you, and their business are tethered together like a fast moving zip line crossing rivers, mountains, and cities everywhere. We see evidence of this every day by just looking at the “Made In” labels in our clothing or in the food products on our grocery shelves.
Number 3: And this is the most important of all — each client you have thinks they are the most important client you have. I have a client who mentioned over a dinner one evening that he “…assumed we are your largest account.” Of course this wasn’t true but it gave me pause to think we must be doing something right if he thought that.
However, if every client you have believes they are your most important client, you have a bit of a challenge to consider. Do you spend an equal amount on each one to keep their business? How do you decide who gets more of your budget over another? Are you looking for Solomon’s Sword to help you sort through these decisions? No need. You can do this.
First, you have an advantage. You know who your most important clients are, how many rank in the top tier for example vs. those in a secondary tier, and so on. You know you need to pay the most attention to the top clients and still make sure you set aside some monies for everyone. There is a good book I came across that a friend recommended to me: Bag The Elephant by Steve Kaplan. I recommend you read it, as it will shed additional light on getting and keeping those top tier clients you want in your compound.
Now, let’s look at investment. What makes up investment? I’m not going to dwell on overhead/management costs, but you can, because they are the 800 lb. gorilla in the room and you shouldn’t ignore them. I’m assuming you already know where your corporate funds are and what it takes to run your company day in and day out. But, here is a list of things you might consider tracking under client investment. I track these as marketing costs in general.
1. Travel. How often should I visit and where? This is fairly easy to quantify.
2. Gifts. Again, easy to quantify. The level of extravagance is up to you, but even something as simple as a book can let your clients know they’ve been thought about.
3. Dinners, lunches and the like. This can be anything from a simple Starbucks gift card to a special shipment of coffee only found in Jamaica. It’s your decision, and the closer you are to your client, the more you know what kinds of things they appreciate — from the simplest (like a bag of Texas sugared pecans) to more complex (hosting their stay at a major sporting event).
4. Relationship. This is the big one. If you’ve been lucky like me, most of your clients become your friends over time. This means it becomes a bit easier to know where you stand in terms of how they view you and in what ways and how much you want to invest in that relationship. In the end, it is all about the relationship you have with your clients, and new clients to come.
Each of us responsible for client relationships, whether from a sales perspective or account management, should make sure we look ahead at our budgets for keeping our “elephants” happy in their compound. Capture the data, along with other costs along the lines of the little extras of keeping clients happy; watch how this line item will grow as your company grows because it should. Of course, these costs are not all of your marketing budget, but are one grouping to set forward and monitor. Remember, take a longer view of expected costs and what they need to cover, and make sensible decisions on how much. One of my most prized and special clients loves those sugared Texas pecans!