“A common problem in our industry is that most of the companies like Thinsolutions are looked at like tech guys,” says Fischer, founder and CEO of the 38-employee company officially known as Netnowledge Inc. “So you have a problem with your PC or your server or router or firewall, you call in the tech guy and they solve the problem. We’re not like that. We obviously fix issues for our clients. But when we interact with our clients, we operate as essentially a virtual CIO. We’re coming in and we’re talking with our clients about their business.”
When economic times are tough, your relationships and attitude about service can go a long way toward helping you hang on to a client who may be looking to cut expenses. If a client knows you have a history of being a problem solver, that client is going to be a lot more likely to hang on to you.
“Ask more open-ended questions that can lead you down the road to really understand where their business is headed and how you might be able to help them,” Fischer says. “A lot of it just starts from the mindset of coming in as more of a business partner and then being a technology strategic partner second. That helps really build the relationship at the core.”
Find out where the company draws its business from and what plans the company has for the future.
“One end of our business is software development,” Fischer says. “When those guys work with our customers, they really have to understand the entire client’s business. Sometimes, they end up knowing the client’s business a little better than the client. That lends itself to really developing a tight relationship with the client, as well.”
Building a rapport with your clients doesn’t have to be difficult.
“It’s the usual stuff that most people cite for common relationship building,” Fischer says. “Taking people to play golf, grabbing a beer and just more casual building of friendships.”
Fischer believes the approach is translatable to any type of industry.
“Let’s say you were selling copiers,” Fischer says. “There is probably nothing more commoditized than that. Now if I go in and I’m just saying, ‘Oh, you need a new copier? Here’s your new copier.’ Well, the next time they’re looking for a new copier, they probably are just going to shop on price. If I go in and ask you about your business process, maybe we get into your business process and figure out, ‘Wow, I can really save you some money over here by using these certain types of copiers.’”
If you start talking business and you find out you’ve worked with a company in another industry that can solve some other problem that your client is having, you can be a conduit to fixing that problem, too.
“We’re out there trying to be a resource,” Fischer says. “When it comes around time to renew that copier, you’re calling me because you’ve been able to rely on me for answers and not just because I have a copier that prints.”
When you can help a client save money, there’s a good chance they’ll remember it.
“We want to work with them so that when things do pick back up, they are in business and hopefully they remember that we helped them through the tough times,” Fischer says.
HOW TO REACH: Netnowledge Inc., (800) 297-1269 or www.thinsolutions.com
Stay off price talk
You need to show genuine interest in customers if you want to build a closer relationship with them. Michael Fischer puts his salespeople at Netnowledge Inc. on the clock to avoid talking about price or pitching his company’s own products for the 38-employee IT solutions provider.
“The further you can go in a meeting without talking about your product or pricing, the better off we’re going to be from a relationship standpoint,” says Fischer, founder and CEO of the company more commonly known as Thinsolutions. “If we can go 20 or 30 minutes and not even get to the part where I’m regurgitating our product or talking pricing, the better off we’re going to be from a standpoint of me understanding the client’s business. Understanding the client’s business is the key to uncovering the opportunities we have to make sales and to provide solutions.”
Encourage your employees to learn about other areas that affect your clients so that they can provide assistance in a more diverse way. This approach has helped Fischer position his company to offer a broader range of services, including more comprehensive IT support.
“When times were good, people didn’t bother with IT because it was the one they understood the least,” Fischer says. “But when times are tough, they’re looking at every department, including IT. So we would be able to come in there and say, ‘There are probably some savings that can be had by the efficiencies we can bring to the table.’”