How do you get your clients to say “No, Thank You” to your competition?
We’ve been on an incredible journey at Brainlink, and recently, when we interviewed a client about our services, I asked him “What do you say to IT companies who call/email you to pitch their business?” He replied, “Mostly, I just delete their emails, and tell the really persistent ones no, thank you.” That’s a powerful thing for a client to say, especially one who’s bombarded constantly by other MSPs and specialist IT firms.
Most of our clients report that they are getting spammed, emailed and cold-called by IT providers, but they refuse to entertain these rival sales pitches. A really enterprising client in NYC gets rid of our competition by asking that company to show them their standard operating procedures (SOPs) and RUNBOOKS. Competitors stop calling then.
Six years ago, retaining business was not so easy. We were losing clients, or getting replaced, usually at inconvenient (or stressful) times.
So, how did we get to this rare, privileged space where our clients love us, respect us and are actively fending off the poachers?
1. We’re constantly educating our existing clients.
99% of Brainlink marketing is NOT aimed at prospects. We know that we’re not a volume business, nor do we need a large inflow of clients to grow 30% year-on-year. We need two to four new clients per year to exceed our revenue, profitability and EBITDA targets. While this business model works for us, it may not necessarily work for you. Go with what you know, but no matter what, invest marketing spend in educating current clients. We teach our clients about social media threats, industry trends (particularly helpful in verticals) security challenges they need to be aware of at home and in the office and most recently, best practices when working with key vendors and regulators.
2. We pursue 100% transparency.
Our clients see 100% of the tickets, project plans, SOPs and configurations. Early on, we have to train them to read the tickets and conduct ticket reviews on and with us. Increasing visibility is just one of many ways to make your IT service delivery more predictable.
3. We own up to our mistakes.
At Brainlink, we brag when we succeed, but are also upfront when we make mistakes or screw up royally. Clients accept that we’re not perfect. By being honest upfront, and proactively owning up to our shortfalls, (whether they be misunderstandings on our part, unclear orders from the client, a gap in the process or gaps in SOPs), we defuse a common source of mutual frustration. Now, this does not mean we are a doormat for clients. No MSP should be. See next point.
4. We get clarity on objectives.
If the error lies on the client side (unclear orders, impossible deadlines or underfunded mandates), we work with the client to resolve those issues. You may notice that “unclear orders from the client” is listed under both numbers three and four. Why? While clients may have given us unclear orders, we made a mistake in accepting those orders without getting clarity. This is the number one cause of client dissatisfaction, tech frustration and the biggest issue we tackle daily. Start owning up to your mistakes. Politely push back on unclear requests or ridiculous deadlines, and you’ll see client satisfaction soar.
5. We embed ourselves in the client culture.
My technicians are at client sites four to five days a week. Even if there are no pending tickets (hah!), I proactively send technicians onsite to catch all the hidden issues that clients haven’t reported. In doing this, we also learn about changes coming down the pipeline – moves, expansions, hires, terminations, lease renewals, issues with other vendors, etc. If you’re not at a client site every week, you’re leaving $$$ on the table.
6. We are VERY picky about who we take on as clients.
A fundamental tenet at Brainlink is that not everyone is qualified to be our client; nor are we qualified to serve everybody. We know our niche in the market place, serving NYC-headquartered, family-owned or privately held hedge funds, wealth management firms, investment firms and construction firms. I have spent seven years building a psychograph of our firm and our preferred clients. There’s a 10-point checklist every prospect must pass to be considered a real prospect, and ultimately a client. By acquiring and servicing clients who match your company’s Dominance Influence Steadiness Conscientousness (DISC) profiles, shared cultural values, education levels and mission objectives, you too can transition from “just another IT invoice” to “a trusted vendor.”
7. We invest in our vendors and staff.
Yes, like you, we work with several vendors each month. And there are a handful that are absolutely critical to our business, such as ConnectWise, Continuum, Datto, Paessler, Cyberoam, Sophos, Reflexion, CharTec, HTG, etc. My team is in constant communication with these key companies, and either myself or my senior technicians attend their conferences every year. Yes, it’s expensive to go to conferences, and even more expensive to pay for staff to go to conferences (opportunity cost is expensive!). However, attending gives us facetime with vendor staff and technical support. These events also foster deeper relationships, faster problem resolution and ultimately, increased client satisfaction.
8. We fire customers and keep clients.
Customers are people who pay your bills, but have zero loyalty to you. And you have zero loyalty to them. We actively fire customers. Clients are people who seek shelter under your patronage or protection. Clients are people whom you have chosen to offer protection. Every client shows up at Brainlink by choice. It was their choice to seek us as a vendor; it is our active, daily choice to keep them as a client. We routinely ask ourselves, “Is this in the best interest of the client? How can we improve the client’s business and the overall client experience?” Go ahead, look at your Accounts Payable (AP) report. How many customers do you have? How many clients would you take a bullet for? Give up sleep for? Energize yourself and your staff to overcome lethargy, laziness, vendor stupidities and seriously disrupt the status quo for?
9. The secret to our success - SOPCulture (see SOPCulture.com).
Every technical employee at our company is trained on using, updating and creating SOPs - our new technician training manual is over 1800 pages long! Why do we do this? Because it makes our service delivery better. It raises our Operational Maturity Level, and it demonstrates our value to clients. Not only do we share all our SOPs with clients, we also train their staff in developing their internal SOPs. This is how we truly differentiate ourselves from the competition. We are a SOPCulture thought leader – and you can be too.
If you don’t have a SOPCulture in your firm (SOPs, RUNBOOKS, and a documented process for how your business does marketing, service delivery, operations management, etc.), then we should have a conversation. See my bio below for more information.
Do you want to build a poacher-resistant business? Increase your professionalism, and raise your individual, staff and client standards.
Oh, and for heaven’s sake, raise your rates! Clients pay professional rates. Customers haggle over every nickel.