One of my first large clients I have ever worked with was a neutraceutical company based out of North Carolina. We were tasked to get them onboarded onto our ecommerce platform. My main contact and I really got to know each other during the months of integration work, and at the end of the engagement, he and I assessed what we've done and exchanged numbers. I told him "If at any point you have any questions, concerns, or just want to talk, don't hesitate to call".
That was one of the best things I did at that company. Over the next couple of years, that director and I had occasional chats to keep in touch. He would tell me his company's growth and concerns with scale, and I would offer advice, and sometimes that advice had nothing to do with the software we implemented for him. When it came time to migrate him to a new platform, all I did was pick up the phone, explained the situation and the opportunity, and we had our teams planning the work the very next week.
The most successful professional services teams I have been apart of have one thing in common: they view engagements as partnership opportunities, not as transactions. Being a good partner encourages a continuous cycle that professional services is uniquely designed to assess and attack. I've broken down the cycle in 5 parts:
- Assess and Align Pain - Rarely have I found the initial ask to be the real reason why a customer is asking for a solution. If a customer has brought you in to solve a problem, ask deep and probing questions to figure out what the root pain really is. Not only will you be able to validate your approach and potential solutions, you can start lining up a vision to solve the customer's real pain that goes well beyond what they initially asked for. Being a good partner isn't just solving the immediate, it's about listening and providing a solution that solves long-term pain.
- Build the Best Solution - Once you have the root pain, then it's time to build the best solution to address that pain. The best solution may not be the one with the greatest number of bells and whistles, rather it is one that lays out a vision to solve their business pain. Be clear to which part of the solution solves what pain, that way the customer really sees an attack plan that's tailored to them rather than just another generic proposal.
- Commit to a Roadmap and Timelines - A solution that isn't planned to a timeline is like getting onto a plane to an exotic location only to find out that the pilot hasn't arrived yet: You're all excited to get to the destination but feel helpless knowing you're going nowhere fast. The promise of a great solution needs to be balanced with the reality of when it can be implemented and rolled out. Be honest with ambitious timelines or stress the importance of a risk-free timeline, whatever your roadmap approach make sure it is rooted in reality and that you are confident you can deliver on it.
- Deliver, Deliver, Deliver - Now that you have a solution and a roadmap, it's time to deliver and execute. Delivery means making the solution into reality, but it is equally important to balance execution with constant communication with the customer. Borrowing from Agile principles, bring your customers into the process by demoing sprints so they can see progress. Be up front if you run into problems and give them a chance to see your team problem solve. Customer anxiety drops dramatically when they see transparency in progress and problem solving.
- Engage Endlessly - If you have engaged the customer throughout the PS process, by the time the solution is delivered you would have developed a trusting rapport with the customer. Now is the time to really probe deep: Did the solution end up solving their pain? If no, did something change along the way? Are they happy with what you delivered? What is the next pain that they are feeling and how can you help?
With continuous engagement, we start building that partnership with our customers based on the honest question of "what's your business pain, and how can we help?". When a customer becomes a partner, they trust you with their pains without reservation, and as a result it's incredibly effortless to loop back to the beginning of the PS cycle.
Stop being transactional, and start engaging for the long term. Start a great cycle for your team.