Updated: May 12
with Bonnie MacDonald
A question we always ask in our client relationship workshop is: think about your most recent buying experience as the client. What do you remember about the interaction with the seller and your buying decision? Now think about a positive and very memorable buying experience? Why does this memory stand out for you?
In the workshop conversation, participants are very quick and often quite passionate about their responses. When they talk about their memorable buying experience, it's not just a communication of words; it's a story—a story of the interaction, person, what they bought, and how it made them feel. Even in B to B sales, there's an emotional component. The emotional aspect of buying can be as much as 80% of the decision.
In almost every business, the “customer experience” is an important contributor to the overall business strategy. Most leaders invest a tremendous amount of time and thought to construct a winning strategy - however, their ability to successfully implement the client experience strategy is mixed.
Being client-focused is critical not only for business success but overall strategy. While many people in the sales profession already know this, not all leaders are able to keep a team’s focus consistently on the customers. It's understandable how it happens given the expectations placed on teams and companies. The more touchpoints in the customer experiences, the more critical and more challenging the client experience can be.
Each buyer is a unique personality. We bring our personality to a buying decision. Who we are as a buyer and how we buy is what companies are consistently trying to figure out. In leadership and sales, client-centricity is essential.
"Customer centricity is saying what you are going to do for your customers (brand promise) and then doing it. These are the outcomes. Customer centricity, itself, happens by ensuring everyone in the organization understands their role in making that outcome happen." - Bonnie MacDonald
Customer centricity is critical in both strategy and action. The Pivotal Leadership Model sustains a client-centricity focus through the Leadership in Action element of Deep Client Relationships. We define DCR as:
"You know your best clients deeply. Your relationship extends beyond business, and you do strategic planning on the account. You and your team know your client's needs and your competition well. The client views you as a trusted advisor and involves you in their planning discussions."
An interesting trend that shaped my lens on this is the research that shows that clients are looking for more experiences and trusted relationships. Recently, I was chatting with Bonnie MacDonald when we found ourselves sharing stories of teams that were losing focus of their clients.
Bonnie is a leader who knows firsthand the strategy and hard work needed to realize great customer experience. She is a C-Suite leader who has built the client experience strategy and has led the implementation. Bonnie has definite views on the problems and opportunities for leaders to realize great client experience.
I had the opportunity to sit down with Bonnie to gather her insights on how to realize great experience through the prism of her background.
Q: Bonnie, what are the must-dos to get great at client experience?
1. Collaborative input
· Successful execution is highly likely when there is a collaborative process (including input from a cross-section of employees within the organization) utilized to build the plan in the first place.
· A collaborative approach to maintaining a continuous loop of feedback, as the strategy unfolds and progresses.
2. Change management
· Never underestimate the power of a layer of change management in the execution plan.
· Understand that the "who" will trump the "what." The right team/people charged with implementing and executing will almost always tip the scales with regards to successful outcomes. People over PowerPoint.
3. Communication cadence
· Communication of the strategy through various channels, by various individuals, at multiple levels, in a variety of contexts, allows for repetition and cementing of the message.
· As the strategy is being executed, it is important, through check-ins, to re-evaluate as any new information and experience become available, to determine if any changes in plans are required.
Q: Can you share how you have put the client at the heart of company strategy, project or investment?
Customers are motivated to purchase, for many reasons, depending on the type of product, occasion or need. As you stated above, about 80% of purchasing decisions are often emotionally driven, while the price is certainly a consideration for customers—the actual product, service or experience factor in as well. I worked with a company to refocus its strategy and priorities around the service and experience components to elevate the overall brand. This change in focus, effort and energy allowed the company to attract a broader customer group who was more focused on service and experience versus price. This allowed the company to grow its sales and be more profitable while doing so.
Q: Most companies invest in building client strategies and knowing who their ideal client is. What is causing client experiences to fall short of client expectations?
The opportunity I have seen most often is the failure to fully integrate the client experience strategy into the overall business strategy and plan. Ensuring the customer strategy is funded accordingly is also vital to success. This seems obvious, but often the strategic priorities do not align with the levels of funding allocated in the budgeting process.
Q: We see sales and marketing increasingly sharing similar KPIs and working together more closely. What do you think about this approach to being client focused?
Client experience expectations are either met and or exceeded when everyone in the entire organization clearly understands their role in the successful execution of the client experience strategy. Being very clear on what the customer cluster and cohorts are, and the accompanying desires of each are paramount to being able to attract said customers/clients and meet their expectations. (“…80% of companies believe they deliver ‘super experiences’ only 8% of customers agree…”- Forbes, July 2018).
Also, working cross-functionally, with ongoing progress reporting whether that be through project management software, or in person internally, and through progress updates with the clients to ensure timely course corrections, when necessary. Sharing success criteria or KPIs are often helpful in determining progress. Be cautious that the measurements do not become a surrogate for the actual strategy.
Q: You know how focused we are on client relationships and retaining our clients. Referrals are our most significant source for new business. How can companies leverage client experience more optimally?
When clients have an experience that exceeds their expectations, it is (obviously) great for the clients, but it is beyond important for the organization on many levels. When clients are thrilled, it is the most reasonably priced marketing available.
If we go back to the culture of client centricity, team members enjoy and thrive working within organizations that provide outcomes that deliver against customer expectations. The organization itself benefits significantly by maintaining a positive relationship and potentially retaining the client for future engagement, which in turn grows their business and reputation.
Q: How can we get to know our clients and what they expect from us?
The key is listening to what is said and what is not said by the client. The next step is to ask probing questions to ensure there is a thorough understanding of the problem(s) to be solved and potential hypotheses to best build a brief for further exploration and strategy development. Deciding what to focus on is as important as deciding what to de-emphasize, as it usually allows for a more targeted allocation of resources - both human capital and money.
Q: What are trends that are shaping the opportunity to move client experience from good to better and then better to great?
The trend I am seeing is the discipline to slow down, to speed up. It can be tempting to look at providing the latest and greatest bells and whistles and let shiny objects distract us. However, there is a requirement customer's basic expectations/hygiene level (as coined by Frederick Herzberg) are met first. While personalization is great, it only adds value to the client's overall experience when the basics have been met or exceeded.
Q: How should a leader help their team realize success?
The best leaders I have worked with have the ability to create and nurture an environment that allows others the best opportunity to thrive and succeed. They have also been principle-based leaders with a high level of trust in the teams they have assembled.
Great to have your experience and insights to shape how we do our best client work, Bonnie! Much more on this topic to cover. I’m looking forward to what others contribute to our conversation.
One dominant competency theme of our Pivotal Leadership Model, and that we do a lot of work on, is Deep Client Relationships. If you are interested in a current state assessment of your company, team or your competencies, contact us about our Pivotal Leadership Diagnostic tool at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bonnie MacDonald is the founder of ShopTonic Business Consulting which promises to provide solutions, that optimize the efforts of companies, by facilitating customer experience centered thinking that creates sustained brand and business value.
Bonnie spent the majority of her career improving customer experience by design with Pepsi, Payless ShoeSource and The Body Shop. To her clients, she brings a customer centric focus in all areas of the business for growth. Bonnie acts in business advisory roles and also mentors, both formally and informally, with several individuals and companies.
Lisa W. Haydon is the President and Founder of Pivotal Coaching. She left her comfortable corporate career to follow her passion of helping people achieve their potential and companies to realize better results.
Lisa is a growth-focused entrepreneur, leadership development consultant and certified executive coach. Her operational and
B to B sales experience in prestigious corporations allows her to create strategic coaching programs and differentiated client engagements.
Pivotal Coaching is known for transformational results. Pivotal Coaching works with large corporations and high growth companies to provide professional services in leadership development and sales effectiveness.