Tag Archives: clients

11 Ways to Use Tech Better With Clients

Technology can enhance a strong, trust-based relationship with your clients, but it’s no substitution for face-to-face time. Here are 11 tips that will help you use high-tech tools in a smart and meaningful way.

Technology does a lot, but it can’t do everything. Sometimes, we forget that. We can get so dependent on email and social media that we lose sight of what people really need from us—especially in business. Yes, clients expect to connect with us in various high-tech ways, but they also crave the deep and meaningful connections that can only come from face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) connections. It can be tricky to walk the line.

Too little tech, and you’ll seem out of touch; too much, and you’ll lose the personal touch that keeps customers loyal and engaged. As you’re trying to find the right balance, just remember this: Your client relationships are built on emotions and trust, so use technology in a way that maintains and enhances relationships and propels them to the next level.

I attribute my career journey to my ability to build strong personal relationships. Following early success in the clothing industry, I experienced a devastating bankruptcy that forced me to rebuild my life from scratch. I went on to join Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., where I created an impressive financial portfolio and won multiple “Top Agent” awards.

Human needs don’t change. Relationships mattered in the days of pencil, paper and snail mail, and they still matter in the days of Facebook and Skype.

Ideally, you would meet with all of your clients in person, but of course that’s not always practical. Still, you should invest in at least one face-to-face meeting with your top clients. Then, use a carefully balanced mix of technology to maintain the relationship. Here are a few tips for using tech the right way.

Don’t let “faceless” and “voiceless” technology become your primary communication tool. Nothing can replace the effectiveness of a face-to-face encounter (even if it’s by Skype), especially in the early phases of your client relationship. And meaningful phone conversations can be great, too. It’s fine to use less powerful tech solutions like email, texting and e-blasts to stay in close contact with your clients. These can enhance and strengthen a well-established relationship. But they should only be supplemental.

Skype important meetings if you can’t be there in person. Ideally, “in person” interactions are best for relationship building—especially with your top clients—but, of course, they can’t always happen. Video conferencing is second-best. Make sure you’re using this tech tool often. It’s a great way to read body language and facial expressions—crucial for building trust and establishing positive and productive relationships.

Pick up the phone regularly. Many people dislike the phone. Conversations can be long and meandering, and we’re all busy. But you must overcome your phone phobia. In terms of relationship building (not to mention problem solving), there is no substitute for the give and take that happens voice-to-voice. Schedule actual phone conversations with clients to catch up and find out how they are doing. Keep that human connection alive!

See also: How Technology Drives a ‘New Normal’  

Pay attention to how the client communicates. If a client seems to prefer phone, text or in-person communication, note it and honor the preferred style while maintaining your own dedication to person-to-person contact. This shows clients you care about and respect their preferences. Find a happy balance between the client’s style, yours and the demands of the day.

Match the medium to the message. If you want to distinguish yourself and have something very important to say, write a letter! If you are trying to book an appointment with a busy person, figure out something complex or discuss a potentially sensitive issue, pick up the phone. If you only want confirmation of a small piece of information and you’ve recently spoken with a client, feel free to use email. Let your instinct be your guide.

Be thoughtful and deliberate with social media. Your competition is taking advantage of these platforms, and so should you. But make sure your online presence is well-planned and -executed. Your Facebook or LinkedIn posts should meaningfully connect back to your brand and mission and provide value to clients and other readers. Don’t bombard your followers with inane content. This negates your credibility. Post less, and make sure your content is good.

Keep your website young and agile. Is your website in alignment with your business image and your mission? Make sure it’s as professional and sleek as your own personal appearance when meeting a client for the first time. Successful companies have streamlined, up-to-date websites with modern fonts, colors and layouts. If it’s been a while since you’ve changed your design, your website is due for a tune-up and a facelift.

Use email to send links to articles you think your client might enjoy. Trusting relationships thrive on frequent contact. To solidify your connection to clients (especially when you haven’t talked in a while), send them little links and articles you know they will enjoy. This gesture shows you are thinking about them and know where their interests lie. Just keep these communications in balance. Bombarding clients with superficial links and articles may actually weaken the value of your contact with them and undermine your relationship.

Send e-newsletters to all your clients. This a good way to engage regularly with clients and stay on their minds. Create compelling content that connects with the various lines of services you are currently offering and craft interesting articles for your clients around related topics.

Personalize your high-tech communication. Sometimes e-blasts make sense, but, whenever possible, include a small personal note at the top that lets clients see they matter to you.

See also: 5 Ways to Enhance Client Engagement  

Allow clients to log in and access their information. Whenever possible, empower clients by putting information at their fingertips. This not only saves time for your clients when they need to get a small piece of information, but also goes a long way toward building mutual trust.

If you harness the power of technology correctly, it can do wonderful things for your business. But remember that it is only one tool in your toolbox. Use technology to enhance business, but don’t let it overshadow your mission to keep trust-based client relationships at the center of everything you do.

Zenefits: Disrupting Lives, Not Just the Insurance Industry

I’m sure you are as tired of reading about Zenefits as I am of writing about it, but, as much as I may want to, it’s hard to turn away from a train wreck in progress.

Wendy Keneipp and I have spent more time reading, writing and talking about Zenefits than we care to admit. We have spent time analyzing its model, discussing how to compete against the company and breaking down its impact on the industry. But this past week has had us shaking our heads at its arrogance and recklessness. I would like to promise this will be my last article about Zenefits, but, well….

No doubt you have recently read about Zenefits’ allegedly selling insurance without proper licenses, and we have now learned the company “may have” (according to new CEO David Sacks) taken shortcuts on at least some of the licenses it did have. May have?! At least take real ownership of the failures, Mr. Sacks!

According to several online articles, the shortcut Zenefits “may have” taken involved writing a program called Macro, which made it appear as if individuals were completing the 52 hours of online training required by the state of California to obtain a license when, in fact, they weren’t. According to a BuzzFeed.com article, those wannabe brokers were then required to sign their name, under risk of perjury, certifying they had completed the required training when, in fact, they hadn’t.

The lack of conscience, level of arrogance and number of culpable “leaders” required to execute on something like this is absolutely mind-blowing. It was bad enough when we thought this was simply a misguided company, confused as to whether it was a tech company or an insurance broker, but that possibility pales in comparison with the malicious company it is proving to be.

Zenefits garnered untold positive press for disrupting an industry and for becoming the fastest-growing SaaS (software as a service) company in Silicon Valley history, but now we are learning just how ugly the reality was behind that thin veil of success.

More than disrupting an industry, Zenefits has built an organization that is disrupting people’s lives—and not in a positive way.

Here are the victims:

INVESTORS

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this group because they provided the currency that fueled Zenefits’ reckless behavior; they are clearly part of the problem. It was investors who perpetuated a RIDICULOUS valuation and, in doing so, put untold pressure on the company to grow at a rate that would somehow validate the investors’ irrational exuberance over the Zenefits machine.

But, in addition to fueling the behavior, the investors are also victims; they invested in an illusion. They had every reason to believe their investment would be protected by legitimate (albeit misguided) business practices. It should have been reasonable for investors to assume the growth they were witnessing—and using to substantiate their investment—was being driven in a legal manner. It wasn’t.

We have already seen Fidelity cut the valuation of its investment in half. What will be the final financial toll on other investors once the dust settles? How much of investors’ collective $500,000,000 will be lost?

CLIENTS

Zenefits’ clients are potentially victimized in two ways. The first potential problem they could run into is having policies canceled as a result of having been written by non-licensed brokers. While I’m certain this is a possibility, I think it is unlikely the carriers would want to take that black eye. What is a more certain, yet difficult to measure, victimization is the fact that Zenefits’ clients did not have access to adequate advice and guidance in making policy decisions in the first place.

It would be one thing if Zenefits was simply in the online gaming business (as an example). If it was, the model would be to allow customers to download a free game and then make money by selling additional services/features. Essentially, if the game sucks, oh well. Unfortunately, Zenefits chose to play a much more serious game in a highly regulated industry.

Zenefits’ model infringes on two of the most critical aspects of client’s lives: their financial and medical well-being.

When Zenefits takes this responsibility as carelessly and recklessly as it has, it puts people’s financial lives at risk. Even worse, Zenefits could put people’s (literal) lives at risk. That may sound overly dramatic, but protecting the financial lives of its clients (employers and employees alike) and ensuring clients have coverage in place that provides for the right medical attention at time of need, is at the core of what this industry does, has always done and must continue to do for its clients.

For Zenefits, insurance is merely an afterthought, a means to an end, a way to finance the technology it touts as “free.” The company really should be ashamed for hijacking something so critical to people’s well-being and using it so carelessly.

ADVISERS

This may surprise you, but I also see the young advisers of Zenefits as victims. While I have been more than willing to share my criticism of their inexperience in the past, I believe these are mostly well-intentioned young professionals.

The Zenefits leadership team sold these young men and women on a vision that is simply proving to be an illusion. They were sold on the idea of disrupting an industry, being a part of a “unicorn” organization doing something that hasn’t been done before. Who wouldn’t buy into something like that?

Now, don’t get me wrong; while inexperienced in the business world, these young folks still had a personal responsibility to know right from wrong. They had to know they were cheating when they skirted the 52-hour requirement. And, they had to know the personal risk they were taking when they signed their name claiming to have completed training they hadn’t.

Bad on them for not taking a stand. But, even worse on the leadership team for putting them in that position.

I can hear the arguments against me on this point, and I don’t necessarily disagree. However, anytime someone in a position of authority uses their power to coerce and take advantage of a subordinate, there is a level of victimization.

NOW WHAT?

Of course, I don’t know how the rest of this story is going to play out, but I have my suspicions.

I don’t see how David Sacks can be allowed to remain as CEO. He has received great praise for the email he sent to the Zenefits employees, and he is being hailed as the leader who will correct all of what ails Zenefits. Maybe he will be, but I have serious doubts.

The positive media response to his succession scares me. Not that I think Parker Conrad should have remained CEO, but because the change seems to be providing Zenefits a free pass—if not in the eyes of regulators, at least in the public eye.

Outside our industry and Silicon Valley, most people have no idea about how this company has been operating. I guarantee you that Zenefits is about to take its marketing and sales machine to a much higher gear. And there are countless business owners oblivious to the potential danger of a purchase through Zenefits who are awaiting promises of easier HR, shiny user interface and no cost. These business owners need, and deserve, to be protected by the regulators put in place to provide such protection.

In my opinion, Sacks, as the chief operating officer, was as culpable for Zenefits’ failures as anyone. As the executive in charge of all things operational, how could he not have known about the lack of licenses or the fraudulent acts taking place under his nose? And, if he somehow didn’t know, that is simply another kind of failure on his part. How can he be allowed to remain?

I also don’t see how state insurance departments can allow Zenefits to earn another dollar off another insurance policy. The company has left too many victims in its wake, and I believe it is about to go on an even more aggressive hunt for even more “victims.” How can Zenefits be allowed to remain in the insurance business?

It’s time for Zenefits to transform its business model, get out of the insurance business and operate as the technology company it has always been; it’s time for the company to start putting people ahead of growth. After all, done properly, taking care of people first ensures growth will take care of itself. And, if you can’t take care of people and turn a profit, you don’t deserve to be in business.

I’m not holding my breath, however. As a self-described “hyper-growth addict,” Sacks has to manage his addiction with the demands and responsibilities of his new role—a role in which he will have to balance the demands of leading a company in a highly regulated industry (requiring attention to detail and ethical behavior above all else) against the demands of delivering an acceptable return for investors who have entrusted him with $500 million of their money. Early results are not very promising.

Stay tuned. I’m certain there’s more to come.

A version of this article was originally published on Crushing Mediocrity. The article appeared here at Q4intel.com.

5 Musts for Being a Thought Leader

Your clients and prospects are inundated with information online to help them solve their problems. Some of the information is genuinely educational; most of it, though, is self-promotional or generic. How do you stand out and get noticed as the one they should turn to for help? One way to break through the clutter is to focus on thought leadership.

What is a thought leader, and why do you want to be one? There are lots of definitions, but I like this one from Forbes:

“A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise … [and thereby] significantly profit[ing] from being recognized as such. “

As the go-to expert, you’re likely to profit in many ways. Regardless of whether it directly brings in new business, thought leadership helps to differentiate you from competitors, expand your reach and build relationships and trust with your audience. You’re also educating people and promoting deeper and more informative discussions, which is a public service.

That all sounds great, but how can you be a thought leader?

1. Understand your sweet spot. In his book, Epic Content Marketing, Joe Pulizzi defines the sweet spot as “the intersection between your customers’ pain points and where you have the most authority with your stories.” Take the time to really research your audience’s needs and concerns. Then consider what expertise and insights you can offer to help them. Don’t spend time talking about areas where you are not well-informed and don’t have much value to add. Focus on what you know best that can assist your clients.

2. Differentiate your message. Your strongest competitors will be trying to do the same thing you are doing – providing valuable content. Know what they are saying and doing and look for ways to be even better or different. For example, focus on a narrow niche, survey the industry and share research, have an opinion, identify trends and provide insights. Give specific and actionable strategies taking into account whatever new developments are occurring. The point is to go beyond sending out a typical client alert that sounds just like the ones from every other firm. The Forbes article provides a great example, but we’ve all seen examples of thought leadership. We know who is going above and beyond.

3. Have a strategy and goals and align the two. Being a thought leader is a lot of work, and you want to be clear about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and what you hope to get out of it. Seems pretty obvious, but the reality is that too many firms start down a path without thinking it through. For example, you have an attorney who happens to be a prolific writer and speaker in a specific area of the law. The problem is that area is not very profitable or high-priority for the law firm. How much effort do you want to put behind promoting expertise that isn’t a good fit for the firm? Or maybe the thought leadership is great and would be good for the firm, but it’s not being seen by the right niche audiences. Sometimes, firms focus on getting the content piece right but spend less time making sure the promotion and distribution is getting to their target market. You need to bring both parts together in a strategic way; otherwise, how are you going to profit from being a thought leader?

4. Write, speak and share information consistently. You can’t be a thought leader if you don’t put your thoughts out there. Write articles, blog posts, whitepapers and books. Curate and comment on other people’s content. Speak at online and live events. Create video. Use social media. You don’t have to do them all, but put out content in different formats to maximize your reach and appeal to different audiences. And do this regularly. Thought leadership is a long-term strategy. People have to hear from you on a consistent basis. An occasional article or speech isn’t enough, even if it’s really great. Of course, there are lots of ways to repackage that great content to get more life out of it, but make sure you’re doing that. You must be visible on a regular basis.

5. Cultivate relationships with other experts, influencers, industry professionals and media. As you develop your thought leadership, reach out to other authorities. Gather and share their insights with your audience, make introductions and give referrals and offer to help them with their content. By assisting others, you’re getting your name out to key contacts in your field and developing deeper relationships, and it’s likely at least some people will reciprocate by helping you. It will also make your thought leadership better-informed because you’re incorporating insights from others.

Becoming a thought leader is a long-term commitment and a lot of work. However, successful firms know the investment is worth it, to not only survive but thrive against the competition.

Walking in the Shoes of Our Customers

I have spent the bulk of my software career as a member of the sales camp. My comfort zone is nurturing big ideas and helping to motivate clients to embrace change. It is thrilling to earn the right to engage with clients through the decision-making process, help clients gain confidence that transformation is possible and support the first steps in execution. Pretty lofty, I know.

But something happened this past year…the tables turned, and I became a software-buying customer. The loftiness of strategic vision met the cold, hard pavement of execution. I found the descent both rapid and eye-opening.

First, a little context — my sales enablement team convinced me the time had come to implement a learning management system (LMS). A LMS was a necessary platform for our team’s and company’s growth ambitions. A LMS system would eliminate a ton of manual processing, freeing resources on the team. At the same time, it would help us focus learner and management attention on building skills that matter, a benefit to the larger sales organization. I agreed, and, in doing so, I stepped into the shoes of our customers. For sure, a LMS implementation is not the size, scale or complexity our Guidewire customers face replacing core systems. But, even at a smaller scale, the implementation has been a valuable education.

  • Success depends upon strong partnership between business and IT. There is just no way IT can run a project without involvement from the business, and the business needs strong project management partners and the technical subject matter expertise from IT. It’s just that simple.
  • If you don’t have the resources to dedicate to the project, don’t do it. It’s hard to find the time to focus on software implementation when there is a business to run. But if there isn’t someone on the business side getting up every day to advance the project, the project is at risk. Asking someone from the business to manage a software project as a part-time job is the myth of multitasking in action. Projects by their nature need focused attention.
  • Process matters. I can hear the words of Alex Naddaff, senior vice president, programs, at Guidewire (who led our professional services organization for the first decade of our company’s history), ringing in my ear: “Project success depended on small teams, empowered to make decisions, who can do so quickly.” He’s right. Without an agile process that promotes consistent communication and team transparency, the project will find rough going.

These aren’t new lessons. These are the same lessons we bring to the table every time we engage with Guidewire prospects and customers. We preach that success depends on:

  • Strong business and IT partnerships;
  • Focused dedication of small teams; and
  • Transparent processes.

The lesson for me is just how hard it is to stay true to these principles. It requires trade-offs, budget allocation and the prioritization of team members’ time. It means accepting that some things won’t get done.

I will share the good news: Because we are following these fundamentals, our project is green, and we are closing in on our deployment date. I’ve got nothing but thanks and praise for the team leading the charge (Sarah from IT and Wendy from enablement, you both rock). We’re not there yet – there are more weeks and months of tough decisions and trade-offs ahead. But we’re close, the goal line is in sight and the realization of benefits is just around the corner.

Even more than the deployment, the biggest win for me is that next time I get the chance to talk to customers and prospects about the perils of software implementation, I can engage with this first-hand experience and empathy for the process. I can say with complete sincerity that the work sucks, but that it’s worth it.