I was recently asked by a young entrepreneur about how he could build a business that will last for 30 years. I sat back to think about the last 30 years and it really was rather simple in retrospect. Three thoughts immediately came to mind:
- The Long View
- Hire Smart
1. Take the Long View
When we first started, we planned to be around 30 years and beyond. The Long View approach is key to a sustainable business. I define the Long View as building long-term relationships focused on the Customer’s Values. As a business you need to identify what is important to your customer; what do they value? Each client is different and unique, so it is important to embrace this opportunity. Listening to your clients to discover their values allows you to offer tailored solutions that are in line with their goals as well enhance the experience that builds your relationship as a long-term partner.
A new business is always in a tough spot. They have short-term obligations that they need to be satisfied that will allow them to be around for the long-term. A sale today that optimizes your revenue for one month but puts the relationship with the customer at risk is not a long-term sustainable business model. It may seem a bit cliché, but we looked at it as a short-term gain for a long-term loss. We focused on our clients’ values and goals to go beyond good service to build Customer Intimacy.
We think of Customer Intimacy as “Customer Service x 10.” We have refused to offer clients certain solutions that they believed they needed when we knew that the solution would not work or help the client reach their objectives. The client chose to go elsewhere and it was our loss. We stuck to our values and the client later came back to us because we had been correct. When we stay focused on Customer Intimacy:
- We have a “beyond the expected” way of treating the client.
- We focus on the client’s wants and needs.
- Our clients’ goals are our goals.
It becomes a process we’ve followed from the first call through a 30 year relationship.
2. Hire Smart
As your business begins to grow, the day will come when you need to hire additional employees. Over the last 30 years we’ve learned to hire people whose values are aligned with Strategic Enhancement Group’s Core Values. We learned that we could train them in the skills needed to be successful in their position, but we could not change their core values into ours. There are three basic business models: Low Cost, Technology Leader and Customer Intimacy. As stated before, we focus on Customer Intimacy, so when we had “bad” hires whose intent was just to have a job, the experience became very expensive.
Customer Intimacy takes time and the person needs to believe that they can make a positive difference with our clients. At SEG we are committed to strong relationships and strong partnerships. We work all over the globe and our great hires put the client needs first. Sometimes they will have to take calls from our international clients at 4am or 9pm. When their values are focused on improving our customers’ performance they do what they have to to meet the customer’s needs and they do it with energy and care. Our clients can feel that caring and our relationships are strengthened.
They are simple concepts that we always keep in mind in everything that we do at Strategic Enhancement Group. Over the last 30 years, consistency might have been the hardest to maintain. As a business you cannot blink. You cannot fake customer intimacy; it is consuming and as I said earlier, it begins with the people you hire. We sell a Service, not Products. It is true that we do sell training manuals but clients stay because the service and expertise that we offer adds value to their experience with us.
I believe that the customer evaluates us everyday. The constant evaluation also leads us to believe that we risk being fired every day. Some might think of these thoughts as negative; I find them motivating. It pushes us everyday to be the best at what we do. Bob Parks, President of Strategic Enhancement Group
As a business it is critical that every interaction with every customer every day is a good one and that we are consistent. Many businesses treat new clients with more attention than they give their older clients. We try very hard not to do that. Even when a problem occurs it is imperative to give every situation the attention it deserves. That means responding to emails and phone calls within the same timeframe when times are good and bad. You must believe that your products and services are the best. Our clients have come to expect a certain level of expertise from us and we strive to meet that expectation, day in and day out.
Looking back, it is not rocket science. In order to succeed in the long haul you must focus on the small stuff. Great products and services do create opportunities for business. However, I believe that the quest for Customer Intimacy is key for long-term business sustainability. Focusing on the Long View, Smart Hires and Consistency allows us to continue to build and grow great partnerships with our clients from day 1 to 30 years.
What is your plan for the next 30 years?