7 Signs it’s Time to Hire a Consultant

The year is almost over- are you on track to hit your annual goals?

I’m not just referring to your sales goals (although those are critical), I also mean goals of the mission and vision of your company, employee satisfaction and engagement, awareness, and everything else that indicates a strong and successful business. If you’re not quite on target, it’s time to make a change. Bringing in an outside consultant may be the breath of fresh air (and new set of eyes) your business needs to finish this year strong and start next year off with a bang. Even the largest, most successful companies turn to consultants; maybe it’s time you consider it too!

Here are seven signs it’s time to hire a consultant:

1. You feel stuck or stagnant.
Simply put: If you feel like your business is in a rut, it probably is. If you’re not growing, you’re dying, and now’s the time to take matters into your own hands. Hiring a consultant can help address these concerns and get you back on track for growth.

2. You need help identifying problems, issues, or areas for improvement.
It’s a hard truth that people “on the inside” often don’t see things as clearly as those “on the outside”. Sometimes executives and business leaders may be blind to areas within their organizations that aren’t functioning optimally, or opportunities to enhance their business both externally and internally. Consultants bring the fresh, objective perspective that can open up new ideas and avenues that weren’t identified previously, and enhance a business.

3. You’re unsure of which direction to go.
Even if you have identified areas for growth, it may be tricky to decide on how to move forward. Consultants can help strategize as well as implement new plans, programs, and procedures to move forward and help your business grow.

4. You want someone to supplement your staff, but don’t want to hire a full time employee.
Let’s face it- hiring a full time employee is expensive. Consultants are an efficient way to get temporary expertise and support when you need it most. By hiring a consultant, you will get a relatively low cost, low commitment solution to a project or problem you’re facing.

5. You want insight into your market.
Many business leaders think they know their customer, but their knowledge is often biased and subjective. It’s tough to remove your “business” cap when trying to understand your customers. Consultants don’t have the same biases, and are able to conduct the research necessary to provide honest insight and feedback that will help you relate to your customers and better serve them.

6. You want freshness and creativity.
Every company does things differently and has their own creative process for operations, marketing, production, etc. Because they have been around other businesses and been exposed to innovation among different industries, consultants will bring new ideas and creativity to your business that you may not have had access to previously. In an ever changing world, innovation is critical to stay afloat.

7. You want to bring new life to your organization.
Companies get stale, but consultants can bring a freshness and excitement that may have been lacking. Mixing it up and engaging new professionals with your team can liven up the work environment, spark new ideas, and create a critical collaborative environment.

If you find yourself identifying with any of these seven signs, do your business a favor and consider bringing on a consultant to help. Amazing results come from collaboration, and recognizing the need for improvement is the first step in achieving your goals.

Breanna Bremer is a professional business advisor at Innovantage Consulting who helps her clients attract, retain, and grow their customers by creating and implementing customized marketing and business development strategies. Read more posts from Breanna Bremer on her websites or her LinkedIn profile.

Increase Customer Retention By Setting Proper Expectations

The first (and debatably the most important) strategy in customer retention is properly setting expectations. This actually comes during the sales process, rather than afterward, and this element ends up being the downfall of many “talented” salespeople.

Set proper expectations.

Imagine buying a new SEO service for your website. The sales person, perhaps feeling pressure to hit quota, tells you you’re going to get at least 15 leads per week, and close deals with at least three of them. Sounds pretty great, right? You buy the service and wait eagerly. And wait. And wait. Maybe a few leads come in, but you don’t hit that promised number. You feel cheated and lied to, and you cancel.

This is called “selling hot”. The salesperson will promise the moon just to close the deal. Although this tactic can generate an impressive volume of closed business (after all, who wouldn’t want to buy a product or service that can deliver such amazing results?), the turnover and cancellation rates will be equally as high, and tarnish the brand reputation. It’s a classic case of over promising and under delivering. It’s critical to set the right expectations before the deal is closed so the client doesn’t feel disappointed when their imagined outcomes don’t happen.

Now imagine the same situation, but instead of making promises in hopes of exciting you into a deal, the salesperson sets appropriate expectations. He explains to you that every client experiences different results, and you can definitely expect some new traffic with the opportunity for incoming leads and closed business (after all, the company has a great portfolio of successful clients), but the results really depend on the client. You purchase the service, get a few leads, close some business, and feel completely satisfied.

Don’t avoid setting expectations.

Sometimes salespeople will avoid setting expectations at all, which can be a big problem too. If you don’t tell the client what they can expect as a result of doing business with you, you put the client in control of setting their own expectations. This can be a huge problem. Customers will, by nature, have a preconception of how their life or business will be affected once they purchase a product or service. Typically customers set high expectations because they are investing their money in what you’re selling, and need to justify the purchase. Depending on the product, they could have wildly unrealistic expectations that simply can’t be achieved from your service. As a salesperson or account rep, you must be in charge of setting the proper expectations so you can avoid backlash from clients who don’t hit their unrealistic goals.

By setting proper expectations, your clients will know exactly what they should be getting by purchasing your product or service. There will be no surprises or disappointments. In fact, if they have an unexpectedly positive experience, they will be thrilled that the service over delivered. This, obviously, is the ideal situation.

Take the opportunity to level with your clients.

Most customers will appreciate the breath of fresh air when a salesperson can set appropriate expectations without promising them the moon. People can often see past audacious promises, and don’t like dealing with the stereotypical “used car” type of sales associate anyway. If you can relate to and level with your client, and honestly explain to them what they can expect as a client of yours, they will appreciate your honesty and like the fact that you’re not using high pressure sales tactics to mislead them into buying your product.

Retention is built on a solid foundation of meeting expectations. It’s not about under promising and over delivering (although over delivering is always great), and it’s certainly not about over promising and under delivering. It’s about setting appropriate and realistic expectations, and meeting (and/or exceeding) them consistently. If a customer knows exactly what they will get from your product or service, and their goals are met, they will have no reason to be disappointed or cancel. Decrease turnover and increase retention during the sales process by setting the right expectations.

 

Selectivity and Rejection: Why Turning Down Prospects Will Save Your Business

When I was starting out in my career, I was beyond eager to close business. I found myself pounding the phones cold calling, and often ended up somewhere between arguing and pleading with prospects trying to get them to buy. Every “no” felt like a loss to me, and I would try as hard as possible to close even the smallest deal. It became a game to me, and eventually I didn’t care about the size of the deal or the customer I was closing, I just cared about my conversion ratio and how many deals I could make.

What I didn’t know is that my effort to close every deal I encountered would end up being my downfall for the next several months.

Customer service calls and cancellations started rolling in. I was spending hours per week on the phone trying to put out fires for my smallest clients, taking me away from the opportunity to close more business. Clients who were not benefitting from the service I sold to them were giving me an earful about how upset they were, and the conversation typically ended with a threat to call their credit card company to dispute their charge. I was miserable.

After this went on for a while, I realized that this was not productive for my book of business or my commission checks, and something needed to change. I figured out that my best clients, the ones who were doing great with the service, and the ones who were paying the most to be doing business with me, were the ones who were causing me absolutely no problems. Additionally, by best clients were the ones I didn’t have to push very hard to close because they understood the value of the service I was selling, and were confident in their ability to benefit from it.

I wanted more clients like that.

I decided I would begin to be selective with my clients. I would call prospects, and if I was receiving too much push back and a refusal to buy, I would just let it go. If the prospect seemed to enjoy arguing for the sake of arguing, rather than posing relevant questions about the service and how they can benefit from doing business with me, I would decide I didn’t need their business, and politely let them off the phone. I figured that if the prospect was giving me a headache during the initial sales call, they would probably be a pain throughout their lifetime as a client. After all, there were thousands of other prospects who would understand the value of what I was selling, and would be much a more pleasant client.

Moreover, I began to identify the prospects who wouldn’t benefit from using my service. I started to understand that not every prospect would be a good fit for what I was selling, and those clients would be dissatisfied with the service despite my best efforts to keep them happy. I didn’t want clients who would not benefit from their membership with our service, because they would just cancel after their term ended. It’s not to anyone’s benefit to sell to people you can’t help. Not everyone needs to become a client of mine, and not everyone should become a client. After all, the service wasn’t a “one size fits all”; some people were just a better fit, and that’s ok.

I became drawn to having clients who would see success with my product and would continue to renew and upgrade their account with me. Identifying the elements that a “good client” embodied, I was able to avoid the less than ideal clients, and keep from investing my time trying to close a deal that will just end in an unhappy client and a cancelled account. I focused my efforts trying to recruit the ideal candidate for the service I was selling, and that has made all the difference.

To me this was a selfish approach because I didn’t want to deal with customer service calls if I didn’t have to, and I didn’t want to take more cancellations, which would be a negative representation of my sales record. However, it’s also to the prospects’ best interest, because I saved them the hassle of buying, suffering through, and fighting to cancel a service that just isn’t a fit for them. It’s not easy to turn business down, but it really makes a difference for all parties involved. Additionally, it’s the ethical and moral thing to do. Be selective with your clients, don’t be afraid to turn down a deal, and strive to work with the clients who will be the best fit for your product or service.

Increase Customer Retention Through Preventative Maintenance

The most effective way, by far, to expand the lifetime of anything is to consistently do preventative maintenance. You take your car to the shop for tune-ups and oil changes, you visit the doctor’s office for check-ups and immunizations, and you have necessary servicing of large household appliances and systems. Even if things aren’t broken, it’s critical to take good care of anything that you want to last. The alternative of neglecting these important elements would have detrimental implications, and any damage to these would be incredibly cost and time intensive, and may potentially pose much more dangerous fallout.

This habit of preventative maintenance is applicable in just about every aspect of your life, and is particularly relevant in business. One of the largest challenges many companies face is customer turnover. The struggle with retention is huge, and even the largest, most successful companies still need to be mindful of this difficulty. Preventative maintenance is critical for companies who strive to maintain customer loyalty and aim to limit the amount of returns, cancellations, and dissatisfied customer surveys they encounter. The amount of time and funds necessary to invest in the servicing of current customers is dramatically outweighed by the potential return your business will receive as a result of your efforts.

A quick, inexpensive, and incredibly effective way to do a client check-up is to pick up the phone. Check in on them! Make the goal of each call to find out how you client is doing, actually listen to their pain points or complaints, and communicate that you understand their challenges. From there, you can work on addressing their issues, but first and foremost you need to demonstrate that you know what the problem is. Doctors don’t write treatment plans before they diagnose the issue, and they don’t diagnose the issue before they listen to the symptoms that you tell them. You need to operate the same way. Be patient, listen, identify the real problems (if any), and then work on a plan to solve them if necessary.

Your customers will be pleasantly surprised to get a phone call from your company with the sole goal of checking in. It’s important to call without any intention of making a sale. If the customer happens to be thrilled with your business and requests to purchase more product, or increase their account coverage, great! But make sure your clients know that the purpose of this call is for customer service. Don’t push a sale either- you don’t want to condition your clients to feel like every phone call comes with an ulterior motive or sales intention.

Another benefit of calling to check on your clients is the personal element you develop by doing so. Putting a face and voice to your brand by personalizing their customer service experience will increase their attachment and commitment to your company via the relationship they will develop with your customer service team.Make the experience individualized versus corporatized. People like to feel special and important. Call them by name, familiarize yourself with their account and their needs. More than anything, your clients are people, not commission checks. Help them out, and your business will reap excellent benefits.

The biggest mistake a business can make is avoiding calling the dissatisfied clients. The mentality that some companies erroneously maintain is that if they call a client who is potentially dissatisfied with their experience, the client will use that opportunity cancel. After all, if you don’t call, they probably won’t remember that they are unhappy with your company. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. If they are unhappy with the results they are getting as a customer of your business, they will get around to cancelling eventually. It’s much better to call now and have the opportunity to address their complaints and potentially save the account than to let it sit and leave the customer thinking you don’t care about their business.

Do not make the mistake of projecting your own experiences or expectations on your client. For example, while working at a popular real estate website company, I would check in monthly with my clients who were real estate agents that lived all across the country. Some lived in busy metropolitan areas, and would receive dozens of leads per day from their advertising campaigns, while others received one lead over the course of a few months. One day I had an encounter with an agent who was unhappy that she had “only” received ten leads in a week. I worked with her on the phone for about five minutes to help her more effectively manage those ten leads, helping her realize that ten closed leads is better than thousands of unclosed leads. She calmed down, got excited about following up with them, and gave me a referral of a friend of hers who wanted to sign up with me. Score! Five minutes was easy and effective preventative maintenance, showing my client that I care and I’m there to help. Additionally, I was able to take care of her displeasure before the issue and her frustration got out of hand, potentially saving the account from a cancellation and an angry review on our site.

After dealing with the woman who was unhappy about ten leads in a week, I reluctantly called to check in on another client who, after almost two months of running his campaign, had only just received his first lead. I started the phone call sympathetically, almost apologetically, and on the defense for an angry client who may complain about their issue. To my shock, there was no issue! This older gentleman was beyond thrilled to have received a lead, exclaiming in his adorable southern accent “Oh my! I’ve gotta go, I need to put gas in my car and prepare for some showings!” Obviously his perception of the results he was getting were dramatically different from mine, and I learned to stop projecting my expectations on my clients, and focus on addressing their individual concerns as needed.

There have been plenty of times that I forced myself to call customers that I was afraid might give me an earful about how disappointed they are in the results. To be honest, I did receive a few cancels as a result of those phone calls (which probably would have happened either way), but much more often I had the opportunity to address my customers needs that weren’t being met, and I was able to make some changes to the account, or help consult my client to use their account differently so that they were much more pleased with their results. Customer service and a regular client check-in is the best use of your time and resources to prevent turnover and increase client retention. Don’t ignore your clients; pick up the phone and ask how you can help them get the most out of their experience with you.

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