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June 14, 2012

Want to know the REAL Story about your Firm? Here’s how…

We all want the research firms that employ us to be the best they can be… to provide top-notch service, use the most current methodologies and deliver the deepest insights for our clients.  So, how do we get there?

For many of us, we start with post-project client satisfaction surveys of some kind… for that immediate feedback on the work we just completed.  And you should continue to do that.  It’s good and valuable information – from clients who LIKE you.

Where you have an even bigger opportunity to learn is from those clients who DON’T like you… your ex-clients – those firms who used to bring their projects to you, but who, for whatever reason, no longer do business with you.  These firms can be an amazing source of insight about your firm, its services and much more.

And here’s the secret… they’re happy to tell you what you want to know if you just ask.  My invitation to ex-clients has usually gone something like this, “Mary, I’d like to spend 15-20 minutes with you to talk about our firm… what we did right, what we did wrong and where we could improve.  This is not a sales pitch – I genuinely want to hear what you have to say.  Your feedback will help us to improve as an organization and that’s why I want to meet.”

The fact is, no ex-client has ever said “no” to that request for a meeting.  They will actually appreciate the fact that you contacted them for that purpose, that you’re not going to sell them anything and that you value their opinion.

Also, when possible, go to the ex-client’s office and have the conversation in person.  This does three things: 1) it shows you are really sincere about gathering this information 2) in-person conversations generally last longer than phone calls, allowing you to gather more data and 3) being there just might open the door to future business… but don’t ask for it, let them bring it up.

OK, so what do you talk about with your ex-clients?  Well, almost everything!  You can talk about:
– What I mentioned above – what you did right, what you did wrong, where you can improve
– Why they left you and who’s doing their research now (and why that firm was selected)
– Their perception of your firm…critical for understanding your brand and position in the marketplace
– Your people, products and processes – I promise they’ll have an opinion on them.

This method can be a little unsettling and very humbling – listening to a list your firm’s failures… but that’s also your biggest opportunity for improvement.  So look back over your ex-client list and schedule a few conversations… their feedback will provide you with a strong competitive advantage over those firms who don’t understand that you learn more when you fail than when you succeed.

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