Business is changing. Employee turnover is on the rise (here in Canada, we’re 4th in the world). With that come a host of symptoms that make it harder and harder to build the kind of strong, connected relationships with customers that time and research have proven, work. And work especially well in a business-to-business environment. Couple that with budgets pared to the bone, and organizations are doing the bare minimum to understand their customers and find out what makes them tick. Sure, salespeople are there, talking to contacts who are active in the sales cycle, and connecting with the rest during classic slowdown periods. And billing goes on, as long as there is something to bill. And customer service will respond, if someone complains. But research, inquiry, curiosity, and simply asking questions like “What if?”, “What’s changed?”, and “How might we?” frequently get pushed aside.
We were reminded of this when a former client contacted us out of the blue. They were interested in some deeper exploration of a customer group of theirs, and they had found a report of ours filed or in a drawer (we rarely do paper reports now, but this was long enough ago, that that was still the standard). The contact was new to us, and we to them. In the time since we last worked with this company, virtually everyone who was a key contact has moved on to a new organization. When you have one or two buyers in a company, and they leave, you’re often back to ground zero. We’ve kept connections with some of those, and have worked with them on other projects in their new workplaces. (Although that takes time, as newcomers take a while before they start bringing in new suppliers when they themselves are just building trust in the organization). A few aren’t in a position to spend money because they’ve started businesses of their own, but have referred us to new clients. One or two have even retired. So really, this company is almost like a brand new client for us. We know some of their history. We know some history the current contacts haven’t even experienced. And all they know of us is that we once wrote some reports. There’s a break in the thread. That’s on us. After a certain period of trying to keep the relationship going, in their time of constraint, restraint, and change, we moved on to more fruitful opportunities. (Is this sounding at all familiar?)
Here’s the thing. This potential new client has done something similar with their customers. They haven’t taken an in-depth, objective look at their key customers in several years. They’re doing it now because their business environment has fundamentally changed – they’re in a regulated industry and government policy is driving them to re-examine everything about how they do business. Some of their relationships have changed. They want to build on the research and strategy work they did with their key customers all those years ago, and find a new way forward. We’ll make sure they get our very best work, and hopefully rekindle what was a fine working relationship. But we can’t help but feel a little wistful because it will be almost like starting over. We’ll all be making an entrance, when we could have been having an encore.
Let’s pledge to avoid this in future. It’s easy to use research to make an entrance, to use the knowledge to carry you forward through one, two, or even three acts. But if we make the intermissions really, really long, the audience will get disconnected from the action – and we’ll never get to have an encore. Instead of continually building our body of knowledge, deepening our relationships, and asking the questions a few at a time, all the time, for a long time, we will scratch the surface repeatedly, never really making the most of what’s right in front of us. So today, make a list. Reach out to a customer you haven’t worked with in some time. Cultivate them like a whole new audience. And see if you can turn your entrance into an encore.
I’m Megann Willson, and I’m one of the partners here at PANOPTIKA. My partner Steve Willson and I have worked since 2001 to help our clients see everything they need to know to make better decisions. You can find us here, or on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or even on Facebook. If you’d like to have insights delivered direct to your inbox, help us be part of your encore performance, by clicking the button, below.