Do you ever ask clients what life was like before you came along? Not only in relation to your specific service or product, but their business life generally:
- What is driving them to do what they do?
- Where do they want to take their company longer term?
- What is getting in the way of their aspirations?
If you have a more rounded picture of what inspires and challenges them, you’ll get a better feel of where you fit in. You’ll also be able to identify which aspects of your work benefit them the most.
‘Before’ life? Not brilliant…
I’ll show you what I mean with the help of Philippa Reader, Director at Brilliant Business.
Philippa is very good at ‘before’ and ‘after’ stories. Her business name actually emerged from listening to the ‘before’ stories of different company owners:
I have talked to people who run businesses that they find exhausting. And people whose businesses work on a commercial level but they don’t particularly enjoy working there. Or owners with businesses that work culturally, and people are happy to work there, but commercially they are not working very well. They are not making money.
In the end, running a brilliant business is much easier than running one that is really, really hard work! And if a business is not brilliant, it is not really sustainable. You can have work that you enjoy, but if it is not commercially viable, over time the enjoyment levels will go down. You just can’t keep doing it.
Equally, you can have work that makes sense commercially. You take on a client and you think, “Oh, that’s a good project”. But if it’s not enjoyable either to you or to your staff, over time it will affect the whole picture. People start to leave or they find it’s really hard working with a client who is, for example, always penny pinching.
‘After’ life? So much better…
When you read Philippa’s descriptions of people’s lives before they realised they could make their business brilliant, you see they have different pain points. And if you are doing something to support those business owners it’s useful for you to see those challenges in context. It will help you to work out which aspect of your offering is valued most by your client.
For instance, you might assume that you have helped your customer reduce their costs and improve their profit margins. But then you ask them what life was like before you arrived. They tell you that over the last few years their best people resigned to go to other jobs. And the colleagues left behind obviously felt twitchy. So the atmosphere on Monday mornings was not brilliant, actually.
Then you ask them what life is like now. As they talk, you realise your assumptions weren’t quite right. Yes, money was important. But what you have really helped them with is staff engagement. So now their best people are staying. And the office atmosphere is happier. And your client no longer ends Sundays with a sinking feeling. (And, by the way, the cost situation is better because they are spending less on recruitment.)
One happier ‘after’ story.
You’ll find a succinct ‘after’ story on Philippa’s LinkedIn profile.
It is a concise summary of what she wants on behalf of the company owners she works with. Much happier ‘after’ stories, where they are leading their own brilliant businesses. In her words, businesses that are “enjoyable to run, financially rewarding and places where people want to work”. She continues:
Brilliant businesses come in many shapes and sizes but they all know where they are going and how they are going to get there. They are well organised and feel calm internally, which allows them to do the right things for their customers. Staff are motivated and well engaged.
Get from to B to A.
So next time you complete a project with the client, get them to tell their before and after story for you. The easiest way to do it is to record your conversation with them. If you ask them to write their story for you, they are unlikely to get round to it – even with the best will in the world. If you’re not sure how to go about leading a conversation with your customers, email me now: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help.
If you’re based in Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey or Dorset and are keen to move your company from its ‘before’ story to its brilliant ‘after’ story, connect with Philippa on LinkedIn. With her wide expertise in business consulting, business coaching, planning and implementing projects and leadership training, I’m sure she will help.