Friday, July 13, 2007

The Future of Your Clients

Here are some thoughts about your future and how it's tied to your clients' futures.

Idea Seed One: Susan's blog post of 7/9. Think about the different kinds of clients you have.
- I.T. Basic;
- I.T. Strategic;
- I.T. I don't know but can you fix it?


Idea Seed Two: Vlad and I were walking from Point A to Point B at the WWPC and we were talking about how big (nameless) corporations don't always understand what goes on down here on Earth. For example: If you assume that everyone wants to grow, then you will design and build things for companies that want to grow.

But what about companies that don't want to grow?

And what about consultants who don't want to grow?

Many of us contribute with the assumption that those of you who read these blogs are interested in growing your business. Growing the number of dollars, growing the size of your profit, and growing the number of employees.

But that's not always the case.

I hope everyone is interested in growing the number of dollars you collect and the size of your profit. But not everyone wants to have employees and payroll and the associated hassles. That's totally understandable.

Your clients are similar.

You may have clients who are sole proprietors and intend to be that way forever. We have decided not to pursue this market, but many consultants literally live off this market.

Some clients are in the very tough 1-2 employee range. If they're new to that, they are definitely going through some trials. You should be aware of these. Help the client see the long term picture. Don't press them to buy a new server today, but make sure they know they can't put it off forever.

If the client has been in that space for quite awhile, they are probably not going to grow, and you can plan on a future that looks very much like today. In other words, you need to help them develop a strategy that evens out the costs over the years. Spending here will never go up much, but it probably won't go down much either.

For larger clients, even up to 100 and above, it's very helpful to know what they expect out of the next three years. Are they growing, shrinking, staying the same? If you don't know, don't assume. Ask.

One of the most important part of the Technology Assessment Toolkit (now the Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit is the section on what they client will be doing in the next year.

It is AMAZING to me how easy it is to get clients to tell your their dirty little secrets. We're having financial problems and need to cut back. We're going to add three more people this year. We have $3 Million in revenue and expect it to be $3.5M within 18 months.

This is great stuff. You get this stuff by asking.

But you can't casually ask. You need to have a process and procedure in which 1) they've agreed to process, and 2) these are just a few questions in a longer list.

We use our own "Roadmap" process, but many of the questions are either similar to, or taken from the Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit. We print out our questions on blue paper with a cover sheet so it looks like there really is a standardized process here.

When clients are growing, you can give them the big heads up that technology spending will increase. No "sales" necessary. Just say things like "You know you can't add three people and all their data in that old server. So you don't need it today, but you know you will."

There's no sales here, so they'll just nod their head and say "I know, I know."


And while it is rare for people to change their spending habits quickly, it can be done over time.

One of my favorite clients is Hank. He absolutely resisted having us take care of his computers, or getting a server, for years. When we finally came in and set him up, he was ecstatic.

Then one day his "server" hard drive crashed! We got him back in business with zero data loss and almost no downtime. After that he bought a real server, signed up for monthly maintenance, and now he does whatever we say.

He went from penny pincher to big picture.

Of course we were patient, long-suffering, and we planted seeds for years.
Bottom line: If you assume every organization wants to grow, you will completely misunderstand the market. In fact, you will not serve your clients if your vision forces you to serve people who are different from your clients.

I like reality. It becomes addictive over time.


Please see other roadmap discussions:

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