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Saturday, October 11, 2008

Your systems

If you want to be successful in marketing (and business) you need a replicable system and specific processes and policies, but your clients should not feel they are cogs in the system's wheels. This is basic stuff, but too many contractors either fail to understand what needs to be done to make their systems effective, or how to design their systems so they don't offend the people who count the most.

Here, for example, is part of our client feedback/follow-up system. We invite feedback and response from our clients not by structured surveys, but through follow up thank you cards (handwritten) or when we produce features, free copies of PDF files of the features. Then we listen. Most of the time the clients are happy (even enthusiastic) or at worse, remain silent. But sometimes things aren't quite right. Then I get involved -- VERY involved.

Around here, even the simplest indication of customer dissatisfaction is like a clanging fire alarm with red lights flashing. Crisis, crisis, crisis, pull out all the stops, drop everything, make it right. We won't permanently change all our processes because of one complaint (but we will make every effort to resolve it), but if the complaints are happening with any frequency, we'll look into our systems and change things.

So, for example, you have a great service, and rely on referrals. That is great. But what is your system for managing, encouraging, and serving referrals? Do you have routine processes for follow ups, do you have an incentive program to encourage referrals, do you have a system to thank the clients who refer you, and do you have measurement resources to track and assess the value and source of your referrals?

If you are playing these things by the seat of your pants, take a step back, and figure out your systems. You don't need a bureaucracy, you don't need to make things excessively complex, but you need rules in the game.

Then, periodically, stretch yourself, go out of your comfort zone, visit another city, try something different, and plug it into your processes. That's the innovation stuff.

P.S. If you think these observations are right out of Michael Gerber's E-Myth materials, you are right, though I don't recommend you spend large sums of money on his programs (I did). I firmly believe that your consultants, while having their own systems, must be much more connected to your own business -- and responsive to it -- and Gerber's cookie-cutter approach is of relatively limited value. But his books are good, and so is the underling philosophy he encourages you to adapt.)

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