Stuart and the City
Recently I met with a group of friends from various businesses for lunch. As always we discussed a wide range of topics, what they should do about this and that, how they and their companies approached various challenges. By far the most time was spent discussing how they could gain new business; most were facing a proportion of business losses and felt that they really had to up their game to gain new business. What struck me was how little time they wanted to allocate to talking about why they were losing business and what lessons may need to be learned.
As the Managing Director of my own company, I too found it easy to become obsessed with results and gaining new business, indeed many industry gurus advocate selling your way out of poor results but to me gaining new business, especially when we were a small company was difficult. Therefore I didn’t have any choice but to focus on retaining our hard fought for clients. Business is much more personal in a small company, in a large company you expect and indeed budget for business losses alongside gains but to us, a client leaving us was like your child wanting to go and live with another family.
As an area manger, I worked with an operations director whose first question to a client who had just appointed our company was “Why did you choose us?” Her logic was to understand the client’s expectations so that she could work out not only how to meet them but exceed them. To me, this is where business retention begins. It is no good waiting until your contract is out to tender or considering how you are going to retain the business six months before it goes out to tender – every day you have to meet and exceed your clients expectations and that’s a cultural value that every service industry should focus on. Its no good reducing your overheads when the results are poor if you then lose your business base.
Many years ago I also had the good fortune to work with an MD who took over the region I had recently joined during an upcoming recession. It was in a very bad way; we were losing business and not gaining any. He remained cool and calm throughout his appointment process, when the company offered him the position; he presented them with his strategy to rebuild the region and only accepted the position when they signed off on his strategy. His first actions were not about gaining new business but about securing the business he had and facing the many challenges that it presented calmly and without emotion. When an area manager announced that she could not possibly turn a contract around, he changed the area manager to one who said that they would give it every thing they had to save the business. This area manager worked tirelessly with the newly appointed sales director to give her a selection of business that she could sell from – if the sales director had said to decorate the restaurant with pink elephants, the area manager would have done so! Very quickly all the area managers realized that they had to jump on board; the result, it took 12 months for that region to become the toast of the company and no one in the region ever took their eye off their hard fought for existing and new business.
Although his strategy is nearly 30 years old, I concluded that it could easily be used today, it is a simple straightforward approach, the only requirement is to focus, not be swayed by all the reasons not to do things and remember to stop and take a deep breath regularly. Inevitably we all lose focus, whenever I did I just thought back to this MD and his amazing ability to as the song says, pick yourself up, brush yourself down and start all over again!
Stuart Everson co-founded City based Everson Hewett, now part of Restaurant Associates. He now manages his advisory company Everson and Partners and is part of the EP Evolution network.