The phrase “Get closer than ever to your customers” is famously attributed to Steve Jobs. This often-repeated mantra remains a key principle of CX in both Consumer and B2B companies. The benefits of being close to your customers are enormous, yet why do so many B2B companies struggle to do it? Quite simply, it can be uncomfortable. This relational challenge has been intensified with the decline of customer site visits and the normalisation of remote work. The great resignation puts further strain on maintaining and building business relationships. An idea that helps to articulate this relational discomfort is “Proxemics”. Within the field of non-verbal communication, Proxemics helps to describe the study of space and how we use it, and how it makes us feel comfortable (or not). The type and quality of relationship we have with someone often determines social distance and comfort level levels too. There is an interesting parallel here for B2B companies and customer relationships too.
As proxemics suggests, our customer closeness depends on the quality of our relationship.
Relationships are the key ingredient
People buy from people. Relationship health is the key ingredient for commercial success, particularly in business-to-business (B2B). At Deep-Insight we help B2B companies get closer to their customers by asking their customers about how they view the relational health their business relationship. But listening to what your customers have to say is only the start of becoming customer centric.
In the world of CX, it’s easy to get busy with the mechanics of running surveys, gathering scores and reporting results. Equal attention must be given to how you use the customer feedback as a platform to respond to your customers individually.
Customer feedback: it’s as easy (and hard) as having a conversation
In all walks of life, relationships are far more enjoyable when they flow in both directions – reciprocity underpins healthy relationships.
When your customers share feedback, it gives you the perfect opportunity to pick up the phone to continue the conversation both about their immediate feedback, but also to talk about their concerns, what they hope for and how you might help them with their business goals.
If responding to a customer is as simple as picking up the phone, why do so few companies do it well?
Nobody like Planning: It takes a lot of careful planning and a solid process to do this in a systematic fashion, but it is well worth doing.
Listening is Hard: On a very human level, paraphrasing Stephen Covey, most of us listen with the intent to reply rather than the intent to understand.
We’ve summarised some typical responses to customer feedback below; it’s much easier to do the items on the left-hand side rather than to properly listen to your customer and agree with them about what you can do to improve your relationship with them.
If you do not respond at all to your customers, they’ll feel like their views are not valued, trust may diminish, and they’ll think twice before they give you feedback again.
You set the tone of the customer relationship by how you respond.
Respond with these steps
Thank your customers, their feedback is the start of a conversation with you.
Establish customer story – What story do you hear from your customers overall? Share the good, the bad and what do you plan to do as a company in response?
Initiate transparency – Don’t be afraid of being honest about what you’ve learnt – it’s likely your customers already know what your company is good or not so good at – they’ll appreciate your trust and initiative.
Clarify – be curious with your customers about their specific views. Work to understand the context of their feedback, there’s always more to find out.
Involve your customer in finding the solutions to their challenges. Knowing their views will allow you to advocate for their immediate needs.
Invite your customers to shape the future of your company – build a pathway for their views to actively shape your company strategy and future.
Create a (SMART) action plan with your customers to address their specific needs and concerns. Assign responsibility and an estimated completion date
Do what you said you would do – use your customer feedback as the basis for making the necessary changes internally
Communicate with your customers regularly about progress on your agreed actions. Be honest about challenges and set realistic expectations.
Open communication and reciprocity form the bedrock of relationships. If you want to get close to your customers, you’ll also need to let them get close to you too.
Proximity matters and it all hinges on the quality of your relationship.
In that blog, I said that “a Net Promoter Score of about +10 is par for the course” for B2B companies and that a “a Net Promoter Score of +30 is excellent.”
A lot has happened since 2014. Back then, NPS was very popular in the USA. That’s not surprising. Its inventor – Fred Reichheld – was a partner in the American consulting company Bain & Company.
Most Bain clients and many other large US firms had adopted NPS as a key performance indicator in 2014. In Europe, they had not.
But eight years on, Europe has caught up. Times have changed.
Net Promoter Scores Are Now Reported in Europe
One of the biggest changes since 2014 is that most large European companies now measure NPS. They also report it to their shareholders in their annual reports. A look at our own client base confirms this.
Telecoms provider BT started piloting a Net Promoter measure in 2016 and announced it in its annual report that year. It rolled out NPS more widely in 2017. The outsourcing company Capita started reporting its NPS results in 2018. As did the French technology firm Atos. International law firm DWF reported its first net promoter scores to shareholders in 2019.
What is a Good B2B Net Promoter Score today?
There have been more recent changes too. In 2020, Covid hit. The nature of working changed. Surely that had an impact on the way companies interacted with their clients? For better, or for worse? 2014 seems a lifetime ago.
So what is a good B2B Net Promoter Score in 2022, compared to 2014?
Oddly enough, not much has changed in the last eight years. Let’s take a closer look. The following scores are taken from our Deep-Insight database and cover nearly 100 major B2B Customer Experience programmes, from 2015 to 2022.The benchmarks are based on responses from nearly 25,000 individuals so it’s a pretty robust set of data.
Net Promoter Scores (2015 – 2022)
Do remember that Deep-Insight works primarily with companies in Europe and Australia, and we have written before about how Americans score more positively than Europeans (or at least, those in Northern Europe). Average Net Promoter Scores for American B2B firms will be higher than those in the table above.
It’s worth recapping on the five key factors that can make a significant impact on your NPS result:
Which geographical region do your customers come from? This is the point about Americans scoring more positively than Europeans.
Do you conduct NPS surveys by telephone or face-to-face or by email? Email gives lower – but more realistic – scores. F2F and telephone gives higher, over-inflated scores.
Is the survey confidential? Surveys that are not confidential tend to paint a much rosier picture than those that are confidential.
Is there a governance structure in place? Governance is required to minimise ‘gaming’ – for example, when clients are excluded because everybody knows they will give poor feedback.
Is the survey carried out by an independent third party, or is it an in-house survey? In-house surveys can be cost-effective but are rarely confidential and are therefore likely to generate inflated NPS results.
On the face of it, things are broadly similar to 2014 but with a few twists:
Average NPS scores have dropped slightly, from +10 to +3, but this could easily be due to the mix of clients that we work with. My own sense is that over the last decade, things have broadly stayed the same. For most B2B companies, a slightly positive NPS result is the norm.
The bar for Excellence has been raised, and now stands at +50 (if you consider the Top 10% to be the bar you’re aiming for). Even if you’re aiming for a Top Quartile performance you have to get close to +40. Back in 2014, the bar was at least 10 points lower.
There are more companies in the “Danger Zone” which we generally regard as anywhere below a score of -30. In 2014, 10-15% of our clients could expect scores in the “Danger Zone”. Today, that figure is nearly 25%.
To sum up: average scores haven’t changed hugely; good companies have got better; poor companies have got worse. The divide between truly customer-centric companies and those who are not remotely customer-centric has increased.
So what is a good Net Promoter Score today? What targets should you be setting for your company?
That depends on your ambition, but it also depends on where you are starting from. There’s no point in aiming for +50 next year if you’re currently in the “Danger Zone”. That’s a journey that will take 5-6 years and will require a complete cultural transformation within your organisation.
There’s a lot of talk at law firms about client relationships. For many clients these can still seem hollow words based on one-way relationships.
Robert Millard and John O’Connor explore how firms that are trying to embrace true client centricity are setting themselves apart.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The CX Factor
Much has been written over the years about how diﬃcult it is for clients to diﬀerentiate between one law ﬁrm and the next. From a client perspective, law ﬁrms all look remarkably similar. Trust, reputation and brand generally play an unusually important role in buying professional services.
Appearing in directories such as Chambers & Partners, Legal 500 and International Financial Law Review are also important as are word-of-mouth recommendations. These are recognised to be among the most compelling means of winning new clients.
But what keeps clients loyal? What drives client relationship longevity? Except for the most complex or unique of matters, a range of ﬁrms exist from which clients can choose. Those ﬁrms are all staﬀed by highly competent, capable lawyers.
Making the Transition from Client Listening to Customer-Centricity
Within ranges, all charge roughly similar fees for similar matters. All are highly attentive to service quality. Most engage in at least some form of client listening. They claim to mould their services and service delivery channels around the needs of clients. But have they?
In our opinion, few have transitioned from client listening to becoming truly customer-centric.
This article is aimed at helping law ﬁrms to make that transition. The content is based on client- centricity work that John O’Connor has done with many large corporates and ﬁnancial institutions, including DWF Group plc. It is also based on Robert Millard’s unparalleled understanding of modern law ﬁrms.
It was informed by interviews with Baker McKenzie LLP (Ana-Maria Norbury and Deanna Gilbert), DWF Group plc (Zelinda Bennett), Shoosmiths LLP (Peter Duﬀ and Gaius Powell) and Travers Smith LLP (Julie Stott and Charlie Rogers) about their CX journeys. All of these were exceedingly generous with their time and insights. We thank them most sincerely.
Clients’ Demands are Shifting
Across many industry sectors and geographies, customers are shifting the ways in which they choose suppliers and service providers. Current research in the United States shows that the percentage of clients recommending law ﬁrms is at an all-time high of 69%. That’s up from 49% in 2020 and from 47% in 2019.
This increase is remarkable. But those results are not from superb skill in solving legal problems alone – the focus on service quality has given way to one of client experience (CX). For all but the most complex and diﬃcult of services, service quality is no longer a source of sustained competitive advantage. It is a prerequisite to be even considered.
Clients now demand that their experience with the ﬁrm advising them be hassle free, transparent and even emotionally uplifting. They also expect law ﬁrms to look further than the legal advice. They expect them to help solve business problems.
Law ﬁrms are changing their business models in line with these shifting client requirements. But too slowly, in our view. The time has come to accelerate. Bluntly, modern law ﬁrms must move from client listening to more detailed conversations, and act decisively on what they discover.
No UK law ﬁrm has what a leading corporate or ﬁnancial service client would acknowledge to be a world-class CX programme, or true customer-centricity. Pockets of excellence do exist though, and some of these can be seen in the case studies at the end of this article.
CX is Different to Service Quality
The concept of ‘quality’ emerged from the total quality management (TQM) movement of the 1950s. In the early days, the focus was on product quality. The emphasis moved in the 70s and 80s to service quality as economies in the western world became more services-based economies. ‘Client satisfaction’ became a prominent metric.
Client experience (CX) is diﬀerent. It means that a ﬁrm’s core focus is on its entire relationship with its clients – not just on satisfaction. Contemporary research shows that CX is generated through a long process of interaction between a ﬁrm and its clients, across multiple channels and through generating both functional and emotional eﬀects.
To achieve this requires ‘client-centricity’ which, in simple terms, means putting clients at the very heart of the ﬁrm. This transcends quality, to mean all the ﬁrm’s lawyers and business services professionals viewing every aspect of the ﬁrm from the client perspective. In this article, we use the terms ‘client centricity’ and ‘CX’ interchangeably.
For clients, quality assurance is diﬃcult in legal and other professional services. Lawyers and other professionals frequently have more knowledge of the topic in hand than do their clients. This creates a ‘power asymmetry’. Work product is frequently co-created with clients, or at least based heavily on client inputs. Consistently poor performance leads inevitably to reputational damage, sanctions for professional negligence and, ultimately, failure.
The Intangibilty of CX in the Legal World
That much is clear. How, though, does a client assess whether services rendered in a speciﬁc matter were merely ‘good’, or ‘excellent’?
It turns out that it is far easier for clients to assess how they feel about the services and about their experience, than the objective quality of the service received. Clients must trust the professionals that they instruct to be technically competent and diligent. Such trust is not necessary to assess their reaction to their experience – their ‘gut-reaction’ – to dealing with the ﬁrm and the way in which the ﬁrm deals with them.
At an event held at White & Case’s oﬃces in London some time ago, the former chairman of Allen & Overy (A&O), David Morley spoke of a very complex, challenging transaction where A&O was pitching for the legal advisory work against the usual range of premium London law ﬁrms. A&O won the engagement and, he said, he was later told by the client’s general counsel that the reason for that was that they felt that when, late at night in the midst of the deal when pressures were immense, they believed that A&O’s lawyers would be the easiest to deal with.
This is an excellent example of how intangible CX can be.
Professional Services are Different
Professional services have always been recognised as being distinct from products, and from other types of services. More than two decades ago, professional services were deﬁned as:
highly knowledge intensive, delivered by highly educated people, frequently linked to cutting-edge knowledge;
involving a high degree of customisation;
involving a high degree of discretionary eﬀort and personal judgement on the part of the professional creating and delivering the service;
requiring substantial interaction with the client; and
being delivered within constraints of professional norms of conduct, including setting client needs above proﬁt and respecting the limits of professional expertise.
For much of the past century, this has been an accurate description of the services delivered to clients by lawyers. Ask any lawyer if they are concerned about their clients, and the quality of services that they deliver to them, and the answer will almost always be: “of course I do!” And that response would be sincere and truthful – to the extent even that the question might be regarded as facile.
Yet the statistics for clients defecting to rival ﬁrms in recent years have been alarming. Legal services are also changing. On the one hand, the complexity of legal issues increases continually and exponentially.
On the other, it is becoming diﬃcult to justify including the more process-driven ‘commoditised’ services under the umbrella of professional services. This does not mean that law ﬁrms need to discard these services. They form an important part of the business of many law ﬁrms.
The term for services that are not ‘professional’ is not ‘unprofessional’. It’s ‘technical’. The fact is that clients view technical legal services through a diﬀerent lens, and the proﬁt drivers of these services are diﬀerent to those of professional services. The ﬁrm’s business model needs to be more granular if the tensions between these client expectations and proﬁt drivers are to be managed.
As the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ unfolds, more of the services now delivered by people will be better delivered by technology. Some lawyers will focus on using ever-more complex technological tools to advise clients on meeting their own increasingly diﬃcult, complex needs. The business of law is also being disrupted by emerging digital technologies and the geo-economic impacts that they spawn. Some firms will build highly proﬁtable legal service platforms (LegalZoom being a good current example) to focus on more mainstream legal needs. Best CX practice will evolve diﬀerently for each.
These tensions can and must be managed. CX has proved a valuable tool for banks, retail organisations, airlines and others to improve levels of customer satisfaction. It is now gaining rapid traction with law ﬁrms and might even be a new frontier on which law ﬁrms are competing. Many ﬁrms, however, appear to be struggling to separate the concept from similar ones such as ‘service quality’ and ‘client relationships’ and ‘client listening’.
What to Measure?
Metrics are obviously crucial. One of the best-known CX metrics is Net Promoter Score (NPS), created by Fred Reichheld based on his work at the consulting company Bain & Co. In his book The Loyalty Effect, Reichheld stated that clients should be valued according to the net present value (NPV) of the future revenues to be earned from them. This has given rise to the notion of client lifetime value (CLV).
NPS is based on the proven premise that client relationship longevity can be predicted by a client’s response to a single question: “how likely would you be to recommend our ﬁrm to a friend or colleague?”
Reichheld’s research showed that surprisingly high NPS scores are required to indicate long-term client loyalty. The NPS of a ﬁrm overall is calculated by subtracting the percentage of clients who allocated a score of 6 or less (Detractors) from the percentage who allocated a score of 9 or 10 (Promoters).
But is NPS the best metric for law ﬁrms? We mentioned earlier how A&O won an engagement based on the general counsel’s level of Trust in the ﬁrm’s ability to deliver when the going got tough. Few companies measure trust explicitly – yet it is the fundamental building block of any client relationship.
Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ)
An alternative to NPS is to view the client relationship more holistically. Client relationship quality can be visualised as a pyramid comprised of three diﬀerent levels (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. The Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) model
Three levels of customer relationship quality
The ﬁrst and most fundamental is the Relationship level. Do your clients trust you, are they committed to a long-term relationship with you, and are they satisﬁed with that relationship?
The second is the Uniqueness level. Do your clients view the experience of working with you, and the solutions you oﬀer, as truly diﬀerentiated and unique?
At the top of the pyramid is the Service level. Are you seen as reliable, responsive and caring?
If law ﬁrms score well on all six elements of customer relationship quality (CRQ), their clients will act as ambassadors, generating a high NPS.
NPS and CRQ scores are highly correlated. Law ﬁrms should track their NPS but in order to understand what that is really telling you – and what you have to do to improve that score – law ﬁrms also need to measure and understand all six elements of the CRQ model.
Turning ‘Client Listening’ into an Effective CX Programme
Client listening is obviously more than just the score and the verbatim feedback that is captured. A fully-ﬂedged CX programme is also far more than a client listening survey. It includes what we refer to as ‘hard side’ and ‘soft side’ activities (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Deep-Insight CX framework
The four quadrants are:
LEADERSHIP. The most important quadrant. Good customer excellence (CX) programmes are always led from the top.
STRATEGY. Good CX programmes link customer, product, operational and organisational strategy explicitly to customer needs.
EXECUTION. Success requires properly resourced teams that are brilliant at executing the strategy.
CULTURE. Finally, customer excellence must become integral to the DNA of the organisation: “it’s how we do things around here”.
The hard side activities of Strategy and Execution are important. These include setting up the CX programme, determining what to measure, executing the survey process, and using the client feedback to update company strategy. However, one of the key lessons from interviews with corporate leaders is that successful CX programmes require heavy investment in ‘soft side’ activities if they are to generate real long-lasting results. This means spending signiﬁcant amounts of time with law partners and client teams planning for success.
All four quadrants are necessary for a successful CX programme. Many law ﬁrms start at the execution quadrant and are often disappointed when their client-listening programme produces no meaningful result or change. In our experience, the soft side is often overlooked and almost always under-resourced. Leadership is the most important quadrant while culture is the most challenging.
Step 1. Drive change from the leadership level
Client relationship longevity is a crucial building block of the ﬁrm’s client value proposition (CVP). It deserves the attention of the ﬁrm’s most senior leaders. Without active and highly visible senior leadership support, a ﬁrm is unlikely to achieve the CX results that they need to build sustained competitive advantage. It is crucial that the ﬁrm’s leaders themselves be truly client-centric. The must:
Be genuinely passionate advocates for the ﬁrm’s clients and their interests;
Take personal ownership of enhancing client- centricity in the ﬁrm;
Have an intuitive understanding that client satisfaction drives ﬁnancial success;
Use client-centricity as a lever to eﬀect organisational change; and
Be relentless about execution.
This list might appear daunting, but it is crucial. Too often, a ﬁrm’s CX initiatives founder because the task is delegated to mid-level teams who have no more than lukewarm support from senior leadership. The result? They are unable to drive the degree of change that can really make a diﬀerence. The need for active and visible senior leadership support is evident in the comments of Peter Duﬀ, chairperson of Shoosmiths, in Case Study 1.
Step 2. Link Strategy Explicitly to Actual Client Needs
Once the leadership for the CX programme has been secured, the law ﬁrm must use the voice of the customer to drive all aspects of the ﬁrm’s strategy. This can, and often will, involve major organisational and operational change. It will also require changes to the ﬁrm’s business model (CVPs, resources and proﬁt model). O’Connor and Whitelaw devote an entire chapter of their book Customer at the Heart to the strategy of client-centricity.
In Case Study 2, Zelinda Bennett speaks of some of the major strategic changes that DWF Group have made in order to serve their global clients more eﬀectively. Reorganising the business into global divisions and acquiring an alternative legal services provider (ALSP) were bold and decisive actions taken precisely because DWF wanted to become more client-centric.
Strategy must involve all aspects of the law ﬁrm’s business. It includes HR (hiring, training and promoting the most client-centric lawyers) as well as ﬁnance (investing only in initiatives that will have a demonstrable impact on clients). It must pervade the entire organisation. Every department in the law ﬁrm must see its role through the lens of the client.
Step 3. Build a CX Execution Capability
Besides strong leadership, a successful CX initiative also requires an ‘execution’ capability to ensure that the voice of the client is both captured correctly and acted upon. Execution is more than setting up a client listening post. It involves turning the outputs from those client conversations and collaborative explorations into tangible actions that solve real client problems.
In today’s world, the client personnel involved in buying and consuming legal services extend far beyond the legal department. The client’s voice needs to extend beyond just the GC and her or his legal team. Law firms must think about the ‘inﬂuencers’ who are telling those decision makers that “We have to work with Firm X” or “Firm Y really aren’t delivering value for money – we should be looking elsewhere”.
One of the better examples of a good execution capability is Baker McKenzie’s Reinvent programme (Case Study 3). Reinvent started by using client listening to map existing client interactions with the law ﬁrm – ‘journey mapping’ as it’s often referred to – but then moved to the next logical level. Baker McKenzie started working with clients to re-engineer processes and even co-creating new services and solutions. The Reinvent programme was developed to establish the governance, skills and infrastructure required to support better client outcomes. This programme focuses both on re-engineering speciﬁc processes and services with clients, as well as a way to develop teams across the ﬁrm – empowering execution at a grassroots level. Such an approach is a highly eﬀective way to build engagement with the CX process and commitment to its success.
Step 4. Embed Client-Centricity into the DNA of the Organisation
Lawyers are consummate professionals. But are they truly client-centric? Most legal professionals entered the legal industry to practise law. They wanted to advise clients and to mitigate risk. They didn’t join to help CFOs and procurement professionals to cut costs. However, that’s what partners in law ﬁrms are being asked to do these days.
Embedding behaviour changes and aligning the ﬁrm’s culture with the ‘voice of the client’ takes patience, persistence and continuous eﬀort over a long time. Engagement with clients must be ongoing. Building and sustaining the momentum required to be true client-centric needs a constant stream of input from clients. It also requires constant conversations within the ﬁrm about what that input means, and how clients can be better served.
In Case Study 4, we look at Travers Smith’s ability to embed the culture of client-centricity into the DNA of the ﬁrm. Silos have been broken down. Close collaboration between lawyers and business services has been achieved. International clients are serviced almost seamlessly. The ﬁrm’s senior leadership takes a very active lead in this.
The reason why most law ﬁrms are lagging behind might be not that they are inattentive to clients (that is usually patently not the case). It is more likely to be that they simply do not have the systems and processes in place that are required to get input of the quality and detail that can drive continuous improvement. A properly designed CX programme delivers that. Over time, measurable results emerge both in terms of client loyalty (NPS and CRQ scores) and also, more importantly, economic performance.
Earlier, we said that many companies start with Execution. We strongly believe that the ﬁrst step in a successful CX programme is gaining the right Leadership commitment to putting the client at the heart of everything a law ﬁrm does.
Once that leadership is in place, it becomes easier to get the law ﬁrm’s strategy aligned to what clients actually need and the CX execution tasks become much easier. With leadership, strategy and execution in place, culture change automatically follows.
As David Morley’s earlier anecdote reveals, the primary impactors of CX emerge when things go wrong. Clients report four major areas where the law ﬁrms that advise them are inconsistent, namely: keeping them informed; dealing with unexpected changes; handling problems; and meeting scope. Feel free to work on these immediately, of course.
But if you want to achieve a step change, that starts at the top.
‘Hunting elephants’ is a term used by sales people to describe the targeting of very large clients. Elephant hunting is difficult to do, but very profitable if you’re successful. The message from this blog? Forget elephants; hunt whales instead.
Whale Hunting with Global Accounts
It’s not often that I write book reviews but if there’s one book on sales management you should plan to read before the end of the summer holidays, it’s Whale Hunting with Global Accounts.
The author is Barbara Weaver Smith, but the book itself has contributions from 14 different experts in global sales. The result is a wonderfully rich, practical – and sometimes quirky – handbook for global sales management and leadership.
The quirkiness of the book comes from the title and inspiration for the book – the Inuit people.
The Inuit People
Here’s how Barbara Weaver Smith introduces the book:
For thousands of years, the Inuit people of the frozen North have risked life and limb to hunt the biggest game on earth: the mighty whale. They endure treacherous seas, frigid temperatures, and deadly ice floes for days at a time in order to catch these elusive and massive mammals. Why risk so much when they could have fish and caribou so much more easily? Because a single whale can provide a village with food and oil to last an entire year.
Would you hunt small game day-in and day-out, when you could hunt the biggest prize of them all every year?
It’s the same in the sales business; small fish will keep you fed but landing each whale-size account can fill your corporate belly for years. Hunting the biggest, most profitable deals is no easy task, and if your target escapes, you’ll lose time and resources. But the payoff is almost always worth your risk and effort.
Leave aside the quirkiness of the title and the references to the Inuit people. This book has contributions from a range of people who have ‘been there and done that’ in the sales world. Barbara Weaver Smith has assembled their views and her own thoughts on global account management into a structured approach for going after and hanging onto large complex accounts.
I always find it difficult to summarise a 240-page book in a few sentences but for me the four key takeaways are:
Knowledge. Global account teams need a massive store of knowledge about their target company and its market, as well as about industry and business challenges. Many sales reps go into a meeting with executives at a global company, armed only with their own product materials.
Structure. You can’t sell to and service large complex organisations unless you are well organised on your own side. The way you structure your own sales organisation must arise from a deep understanding of your client’s needs and preferences.
Process. This one is more interesting as it’s counter-intuitive. The more complex the sale and the longer the sales cycle, the more likely that sales people need to follow their own intuition rather than stick with the standard structured company sales approach.
Vision. Your company’s vision needs enough power to lead your customers through the challenges of consensus-building, the pain of change, and the inertia of bureaucracies.
Where KAM and GAM are Currently Failing
‘Whale Hunting with Global Accounts’ resonated strongly with me because it examines many of the challenges that I see within our own B2B clients. There’s no getting away from it: Key Account Management (KAM) and its big brother Global Account Management (GAM) are challenging activities.
Using the same four headings:
Knowledge. Many key (and global) account teams simply don’t understand their clients as well as they need to. It’s not easy if you have a client that operates in 20 different countries and people in all 20 have a view on your products and services. But you need to find out exactly what they think. Key account managers should not just be order-takers. They need to be information-gatherers, orchestrators and coaches. Yet many of our clients at Deep-Insight have excellent order-takers performing key account management roles. Square pegs and round holes.
Structure. I’m always surprised to discover just how product-centric many of our clients still are. Key accounts often have different product-based sales teams approaching them in a completely uncoordinated fashion. When key accounts are international – in other words, global – many of our clients are further stymied by their own national organisation structures. National structures do not support or encourage cross-border collaboration.
Process. Here’s one good example: Companies put processes and KPIs in place for key account managers. We have already seen that key account teams need a wealth of feedback from multiple individuals in each account. However, they are often given Net Promoter Score (NPS) and Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) targets that incentivise them to REDUCE the number of contacts they get feedback from. Why? New ‘Decision Makers’ and ‘Influencers’ are likely to give poorer scores than existing ‘Operational’ contacts.
Vision. Many companies think they have a vision that key and global account teams buy into. The reality is that every three months, that vision gets completely blurred by the requirement to hit quarterly sales targets. Cooperation and collaboration are pushed into second place. Long-term planning is abandoned as long-term account strategies struggle to survive the relentless demands of a quarterly sales culture.
All these things need to change.
Forget Elephants; Hunt Whales Instead
‘Whale Hunting with Global Accounts’ may not answer every question a Global Account Manager has. No individual book can but this one does provide an excellent framework for thinking about how to do GAM and KAM effectively. More important, it’s grounded in the real world and provides the CEO and Sales Director with a clear overview of the pitfalls of implementing GAM structures, processes and organisations.
It’s a worthwhile addition to any salesperson’s bookshelf.
So buy it. And remember: Forget elephants; hunt whales instead.
Every year we follow our own advice. We ask ourselves and our clients: “How did we do?” Just like our own clients, we never quite know what to expect until all the numbers are in and until we have read all the verbatim comments.
It’s always nerve-wracking waiting for those results to come through. We might think we know what clients are going to say but we’re never 100% certain. It was especially true this year given that the last 12-15 months have been unprecedented. We have all moved to new ways of working. Business is conducted differently these days.
This year, we also spread the net for our Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ) assessment very wide. We didn’t just limit it to the key decision makers and teams that we work with on a day-to-day basis. This year we canvassed the views of people who use the outputs of our CRQ and ERQ (Employee Relationship Quality) services. For example: account directors and service managers who use our Account Reports and results to build better relationships with customers; divisional heads who use the outputs to inform strategic direction and investments.
We wanted to understand what they think of the tools and consultation we provide and if it really helps them in their roles.
How did we do?
So how did we do?
And what do those numbers 55, 55, 5.9 and 81 at the start of the blog mean?
The first number is our response rate. Fifty five percent of the people we asked gave us 10 minutes of their time and completed the assessment. That’s not bad but could have been higher. Some of our clients achieve response rates of 70% or greater.
The second number is our Net Promoter Score. It’s the second time we have scored above 50. The actual breakdown is 58% Promoters; 39% Passives; 3% Detractors and the NPS calculation (percentage or Promoters less the percentage of Detractors) gives us our NPS score of +55.
The third is our CRQ score and that’s the second highest we have ever achieved. It’s on a 1 to 7 scale. An typical CRQ score for a European B2B company is a little above 5. A score of 6 is almost impossible to achieve (at least in Europe!)
The final number is the percentage of Ambassadors we have. In many ways, this is the most important number of all. It means that four out of every five clients believes that Deep-Insight offers something truly unique. You trust us and you think our service is second-to-none. This bodes well for long-term relationships with each of these clients.
Our New Approach – Workshops and Support
These are some of the best scores we have ever achieved and when we read through the verbatims, it’s clear to me that one of the key reasons for the high scores is the fact that over the past 12 months we have changed the way we work with clients.
In the past, you told us you needed more consulting support to get the maximum benefit from the customer experience (CX) and employee experience (EX) programmes we run for you. In particular, you asked us to provide more consultancy support in turning insights into action. We now do that by:
Running workshops to ‘onboard’ the leadership teams to the CX or EX programmes
Holding CX workshops with customer-facing teams before we ever think about contacting your clients and staff
Spending more time with account directors/ service managers to get commitments from customers to provide feedback
Doing the same after that feedback has been given and collated – to ‘close the loop’ with those customers
It was a new process for us last year and you are now telling us that it works. We thought it might, given that we have 20 years of experience in helping companies build and run CX and EX programmes. But we honestly didn’t know until we asked you.
“Are we there yet?”
While we’re really proud of these scores and the comments that accompanied them, no, we’re not there yet. Here are three things we need to do to get there over the next year:
Engage with clients/ individuals who did not provide feedback. While 55% is a decent response rate, a few of our clients gave us a limited amount of feedback. I’m pretty sure that, had they completed the survey last month, our scores would be lower. I believe we still have some work to do to improve the relationship quality with these clients so I will personally be reaching out in the coming days to talk to them about where we may be falling short.
Consider even more CX and EX support. You have asked for even more help to turn insights into action with your customers. We are committed to helping you achieve that, and will pick up the subject with you when we meet with you to ‘close the loop’ on this year’s client assessment.
‘Closing the Loop’ with our own clients. The final thing we need to do with all of our clients is to discuss their own specific feedback on our performance with them. We will be in touch shortly with each one of our clients. We will be asking for time to discuss each client’s specific results and feedback. Our objective is to agree a set of actions with each client that will improve the value we deliver in the coming 12 months. I’m personally looking forward to those conversations.
Thank you again – and expect a call from us
Finally, I genuinely appreciate the time you have taken to give us your feedback.
I must also say a big thank you to our own team in Deep-Insight who have managed to weather the stormy waters of the last 12-15 months. They continue to deliver an excellent service to our clients (your words, not just mine). In particular, I need to thank James Kind for planning, organising and running this year’s “Deep-Insighting Ourselves” assessment.
James joined us in March last year and no sooner had he stepped inside our offices, we shut them down due to COVID. Like many other people out there, James knows his colleagues primarily through Teams and Zoom meetings. I’ve been impressed at how he – and everybody else in Deep-Insight and our clients – has adapted to working from a laptop in an attic, shed, kitchen or bedroom.
In the coming months, all that will change as vaccines get rolled out globally. I don’t believe we’ll ever go back to our old ways of working but that might not be a bad thing.
So, well done James, and thank you to all of our clients. We’ll be in touch with you shortly to discuss your results and agree some follow-up actions.