Saturday, October 30, 2010

3 simple rules for selling more to your existing customers

Yesterday, one of my ex-client called me up, and asked my advice on - How to get more business? If I didn't have a good idea about their business then I would have advised them on few market expansion strategies. But I knew that he already has few major players of the industry as his clients, and he can get more business from them. And that's where I got an idea for my new blog post.

If you own a business with already established accounts, then increasing sales from the existing customers would be the best bet. Although this type of account management strategy sounds simple to plan, it is tough to execute. Here are three simple rules that might work well for all type of businesses.

HonestRule 1: Be honest about deliverable of your product or services. Your job as a relationship manager is to ensure that you give the customer accurate status. Obviously, you don’t want to announce problems using mass emails. However, if a major delivery is at jeopardy, the best way to handle it is to be upfront with the customer and present a problem resolution plan. Repeated honesty in disclosing problems and sincerity in trying to resolve them will help you to earn customer’s loyalty. These loyal customers will pave the way for the next deal.

Rule 2: Don't harass your customer. Relationship managers should focus on delivery rather than upfront sales. If delivery is done right, your customers will become the salespeople for you. It is best to slowly build the relationship and then talk sales, not vice-versa.

SocializeRule 3: Relate with your customers on a personal level. I do independent management consulting, so I don’t have any account manager to handle my accounts. I, myself, have to work as a relationship manager for my customers. I try to invite my local customers to the bar and lunch quite regularly. If you got to know individuals personally outside their professional role, you are going to get more business from the same customers.

I hope my article was helpful, and I am eager to hear your feedback. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Got my first part-time consulting contract, now what?

I can’t believe, it had been a whole week since I wrote my last blog. This week was really busy with lot of sleepless nights and lot of ice tea. Working full-time and consulting part-time is not an easy task. I would not recommend you to consult a business part-time, if you can’t keep up with all of your appointments in your outlook calendar.

Anyways, I am not here to tell you how to manage your time well (at least not in this blog). Before I start, I would like to thank my readers to read my blog and sending their replies through e-mails and comments. In their responses, lot of people asked me to write about the next step after getting the first client. Through this blog, I would like to answer that question.

I do management consulting on part-time basis, so most of my views would be helpful to part-time consultant instead of those full-timers. Following are few tips, which might help you when you get your first client/contract.

CommunicationCommunication, communication, communication: This is the key element of every consulting business. Being a part-time consultant, it will be really hard to communicate with your clients. Whatever may be the case, you need to communicate with them on regular basis. If you are consulting local businesses then invite their executives on lunch. You will be amazed to know - how much you can talk over the lunch. Voice conference will work too. I would also suggest you to gather and read as many documents as you can. Defining the business problem CORRECTLY is really important. And yeah! Try to keep your clients informed in EVERY STEP of the process in implementing the solution.

TechnologyLeverage technology: If you are a part-time consultant like me, then you want to be transparent about your progress with your clients. If you are a management consultant, then it becomes even more difficult to provide some tangible output every day. Thus, I would advise you to use solutions like - Google site, Google docs, Windows live documents, etc. This will provide proper visibility of your work. Using skype for video conference is another cheap way to communicate with your clients. I have lot of clients from my home country (India), and skype had really helped me to better communicate with them. YouTube can be helpful too. I create separate private channels on YouTube for my clients, if there is any training required.

DocumentsKeep record of your work: This would seem obvious for any consultant, but you will be surprised to know that only 20% of the independent consultant keep DETAILED LOGS of their work. Keeping an engineering log will help you in many ways from tracking your time to reusing your material. I, myself, don’t have the fix pricing model for my clients. Sometimes I charge them on a contract basis, sometimes on commission bases, and sometimes on hourly basis. Whatever may be the case, keeping track of your time worked on a particular project will help you to provide competitive pricing to your next client. Keeping all of your historical documents will help you to not only reproduce your material but also you can learn from your own mistakes. After all, we all learn from our mistakes, the key is to RECORD your past and learn from it.

I hope my article was helpful, and I am eager to hear your feedback. Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Where to start for selling your consulting services?

Having a full-time job, its really hard to get time from my schedule and consult businesses. Still I somehow manage my time, and consult lot of small local and remote businesses (some for knowledge and some for money). I mostly consult these businesses on weekends or in the evenings. The road is not easy, but I love the work that I do. Fortunately, I got my first consulting assignment for a medium-sized company (3000+ employees). I am really excited for this learning opportunity. After this experience, I will have a good idea about day-to-day challenges of a medium-sized company.

When I was reading few materials over the weekend to prepare myself for this opportunity, I got to think about the past - how did I get this opportunity? And I thought of sharing my experience with you. It might help you to sell your professional services to medium or big sized companies. The most basic advise that I can give you before you approach any medium or big sized company with your services is - improve your brand awareness, provide quality services, and try to get good references.

BrandImprove your brand awareness: This can be accomplished by a number of means, but will certainly take time and vary in difficulty depending upon a number of factors including your size, history, geographic footprint, and financial resources. Just try to align your brand with the types of services you want to deliver in the market. Try to establish a history of delivering excellent values through clients across multiple industries. Complement this with marketing and public relations tools ranging from participating in industry events, trade shows, and blogging.

Provide quality services: Developing a reputation in the market for delivering services in a timely, quality, and cost-effective manner will definitely help your business. 40% of my consulting contracts are through the same clients. Quality of my service served as the foundation for building a strong reference base and opportunity pipeline. Don't just give importance to your initial contracts, treat all of your contracts as they were your first. This approach will definitely help you in maintaining good customer relationships.

ReferralGet good references: If you are a new service provider, a strong reference base is an absolute requirement. Most of my clients are extremely selective, when it comes to choosing a service provider. At first, lot of my clients simply refused to take a chance on someone new like me. But when they spoke to my previous clients to whom I have successfully delivered the same service, they agreed to try me. To build these initial references, I would recommend working for non-profits, small businesses and start-ups. Before consulting businesses for money, I have worked for many businesses for free. This is the best way to build up your reference base and get some good experience.

I hope my article was helpful, and I am eager to hear your feedback. Thanks. - Bhavin Gandhi

Friday, October 8, 2010

Manager's triplets for today (Part 2)

We live in the 21st Century, businesses are becoming more and more complex with increasing government involvement, outsourcing, innovations, etc. I believe that  we are on the verge of big paradigm shift in - how we do business. In this article, I will provide few suggestions for tomorrow's manager to cope up with this change, as a follow-up of my last blog.

Be flexible: In recent years, the dynamics in business world have changed. Thus, management techniques should become more flexible, more in tune with the needs of the business, employees, and the environment. Managers should work to be more adaptive to new ideas, new technology and brand new processes. If managers become more flexible then they can create a win-win situation for their businesses or their employees. One of the good example to be flexible would be: Re-evaluate your mission, strategy and goals more frequently than before, in order to adjust to the uncertain and changing environment.

Be humble and open minded: Today’s managers should not assume that they know the answer to everything, because more often they won't. Things are changing so rapidly that your yesterday’s knowledge might not be valuable in today’s situations. Thus, as a manager, you need to be willing to hear hard truths from your employees, your customers, your suppliers and anyone else closer to a changing marketplace than you are.

Be up-to-date with information: The world is changing faster than ever. Today’s technology might be obsolete in 2 years time. Thus, today’s managers need to be up-to-date with the information. They not only need to know what’s going on with their customers and competitors but they need to be informed about recent innovation in their field. For example: A.G. Lafley, former CEO of Procter & Gamble, who required his top executives to go out into the field and talk to the ordinary women who use P&G products.

I hope my article was helpful, and I am eager to hear your feedback. Thanks. - Bhavin Gandhi