What makes a great customer?

19 April 2011

Mike Curl

Mike Curl

Head of Finance, Services & Media

Bluefin Solutions has completed thousands of unique engagements for hundreds of different customers, spanning most industries. Some customers and projects feel just right and everything falls into place. Others however, feel like an uphill struggle from the start and we have to work much harder for a successful outcome.

As a director and client partner at Bluefin Solutions, I thought I'd share some of my insights into what makes a great customer and draw out some of the common traits which make working with these organisations such a positive experience. Who knows, perhaps with some increased corporate self-awareness, you too could become one of our best customers!

I've broken this down into the stages of a typical engagement:

  • Pre-sales/commercial
  • Delivery
  • Support
  • ...and beyond

Pre-sales/commercial 

At the start of any new customer engagement comes the 'dating phase'. This can sometimes be rather challenging and unpredictable as both organisations get to know each other better. What differentiates our best customers are some of the following behaviours and attitudes:

  • A willingness to share their vision and objectives and invest in the relationship from the outset  so that we know where they want to go and can best contribute to the journey
  • They share their decision making processes and frameworks so that we can input into these accordingly. We know that decision making in large corporates can take time and often involves multiple levels of approval but please explain the process and stakeholders to us so that it doesn't feel like a Kafka-esque experience. "I am powerful. And I am only the most lowly gatekeeper. But from room to room stand gatekeepers, each more powerful than the other".
  • They realise that big RFIs (Request for Information) and RFPs (Request for Proposal) often aren't the best way to select a partner and result in large amounts of wasted effort on both sides, with little added value. We'd much prefer to run solution workshops or do trial engagements for you so that you can get to see us in action, rather than produce hundreds of pages of content you'll never read.
  • They keep us updated with decision making around an opportunity and tell us why we were chosen or not for a particular engagement. Nothing is worse than the wall of silence.
  • They value our ideas and knowledge and don't try to extract as much as possible for free... after all we are a business too!!!
  • They want to build a lasting relationship with their vendors and recognise that value comes from forming mutually successful partnerships, not simply demanding resources at the lowest day rates.

Delivery

Project delivery can be a tough experience for all involved, especially on long, complex engagements. What makes our best customers stand include the following:

  • They are passionate about their businesses and take the time to explain their organisation, the culture and its products to us. We always like to visit customer plants, factories or call centres to get a feel for the business. Oh and we always love the staff shops!
  • They commit the promised resources to the project. This resource is collaboratively involved and can bring the organisation-specific-insight we need. Whilst we can sometimes 'do projects to you', we know that approach doesn't generally lead to long-term success.
  • They are good at decision making and once made, stick to a decision without agonising over it. Nothing paralyses a project and saps morale more than U turns and the re-work involved.
  • They acknowledge some things will go wrong during a project but they respect the willingness and desire to get as much of it as possible right first time. When things don't go to plan, they spend more time looking forward and helping to get things back on track rather than blame-storming and performing post-mortems. They also recognise that sometimes, just sometimes, their own people are partly responsible.
  • They feedback throughout the project on how we're doing and air concerns constructively. After all, if we don't know about a potential problem we can't do anything about it. Whilst we actively seek feedback, it seems some customers would rather give it indirectly or not at all.
  • They work actively with us to control scope and realise that slow decision making and changes in requirements will usually have an impact on milestones and costs.

Support

Once a solution has gone live, our best customers:

  • Realise it's sensible to have post go-live support from us. The consultants involved in the project will be able to resolve issues much more quickly than anyone else, but won't be able to provide much assistance once resourced onto new client engagements.
  • Don't expect a life time warranty for solutions we build. Whilst we take testing and quality very seriously and fix defects if found during the project, there will always be the odd complex issue that only surfaces in a live system.
  • Conduct a full project review with us so that we can all learn from the experience and feed that into future work.

And beyond

Once we've moved on to new challenges elsewhere, our best customers:

  • Agree to case studies and reference site visits for us. After all, they sensibly took up the references we provided them as part of the pre-sales process. It's time to pay it forward guys!
  • Keep us updated with the benefits the solution is providing. We like anecdotes and love hard facts and ROI calculations.
  • Keep us up-to-date with developments at their organisation and get our input early into new business challenges.

I hope the above has been useful and has got you thinking about what your own organisation might be like to work with. As suppliers, we're often not in a position to call the shots and have to adapt to our customers. But we love it when things come together and we work collaboratively in partnership with our customers.

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About the author

Mike Curl

Head of Finance, Services & Media

My interest in technology started in 1981 when a friend’s father built a Sinclair ZX81 and then relied on the two of us to program it. I soon moved on to my own BBC “B” computer (thanks dad!) and amused the family with some very rudimentary INPUT and PRINT statements…

My passion continues but on a much bigger scale than I could have ever imagined.  Today, I advise business and IT teams at some of the largest organisations in the world, helping them design, implement and exploit the latest technology in support of their business priorities and challenges.

I co-founded Bluefin in 2002 after spending many years in the consulting industry, having started at Andersen Consulting in 1994.  With Bluefin, I have been fortunate enough to be involved with some truly ground-breaking projects and technologies over the years.

What I really enjoy is finding the business value of new technology and leading the pioneering engagements to implement it successfully for the first time. Barclays, a client I lead at Bluefin, has won several industry and partner (SAP) awards for the innovative work we did with them around enterprise mobility. At another client we’ve also been doing some truly amazing work with SAP HANA that has the potential to disrupt established business models.

Bluefin and SAP S/4HANA - welcome to the one horse race

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