Build your firm as a model for customer success

Jennifer Shine talks about the importance of investing in the products you're working so hard to sell. Networking consultants with an intimate knowledge of their products from personal use and experience are infinitely more believable than those without.

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In a classic episode of "I Love Lucy" we find our red-headed heroine ecstatic for having been chosen to do a television commercial. She arrives at the shoot, basking in the glory of her new-found stardom, only to face a moral dilemma when she discovers that the product she is supposed to endorse tastes awful. If you have not seen that episode, you may be doing your firm a disservice. I would venture to say that that ours is an industry full of the same hypocrisy. We spend most of our time advocating the concept of "best practices", but not applying those practices in our own firms. What we often fail to realize is that our customers look to us, not only for advice and support, but in the broader sense as a role model for their use of technology.

That idea has driven a "practice what you preach" policy in my own firm. From operating systems to telephone systems and monitors to security solutions, we've chosen technologies we feel are core to our ideal customer and have implemented them in our own business. This was no arbitrary decision, but was born from sales meetings where our customers would visit our office. They spent most of their time looking at how our firm operated and how our technology would translate to their businesses. It was only when they could experience these solutions firsthand that they felt comfortable using them. We realized that, more than any other element of the sales process, our endorsement of technologies by using them ourselves was the most powerful influence on the sale.

The effect of endorsing the products we use has resonated most in the use of our VoIP phone system. In 2002, we began to work with M5 Networks, an outsourced IP phone system provider, to implement our internal phone system. While our staff needs for phone service may not have merited the use of a full-featured VoIP solution at that time, it was important that we chose and implemented the solution that would most greatly benefit our customers going forward. It was a great decision. Now most customers who spend the afternoon at our firm select the same system. In a recent visit to our office, one client who had previously rejected the idea of a VoIP system was able to make calls and try the features of our M5 phone system. By seeing the system in action, she realized that her fears of poor quality of service and dropped calls were unfounded. Furthermore, she trusted the solution because we had selected it for our own firm.

Moral imperatives aside, this policy has driven some great results across our business:

  • As we've standardized on various vendors, we have improved our relationships with those companies, resulting in increased marketing investment and higher levels of technical support. We spend less time navigating partner programs and more time working with our vendor reps to build a relationship that is profitable for both of us.
  • We invest less of our engineers' time in classroom training. They get to know new technologies by using them everyday, typically months before we would deploy those technologies at a customer's site. This ensures that we've worked out any issues ahead of time and limits our customers' exposure to downtime.
  • With managed services permeating our industry, even small efficiency gains will directly affect the bottom line. If your customers' environments mirror your own, you are no longer reinventing the wheel for each new customer. The up-front costs associated with customer acquisition are minimized and that account becomes profitable more quickly.
  • Sales staff can relay firsthand experience with new technologies. They can easily showcase and demonstrate products in a customer office visit that might otherwise require the involvement of technical personnel. This shortens the sales cycle considerably.
  • And the benefits to the customer go well beyond these results. They gain a consistency of experience in doing business with us that breeds trust and peace of mind. They have a benchmark for success in deploying new technologies and can know that wherever that technology may take them, they have a partner who has been there.

    About the author
    Jennifer Shine is the President of eMazzanti Technologies, a firm that works with businesses to provide strategies for growth through the use of intelligent technology. For more information visit www.emazzanti.net. Jennifer can be reached at jshine@emazzanti.net.

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