5 Tips for a Successful Client Relationship - David DeWolf

5 Tips for a Successful Client Relationship

A couple of years ago at 3Pillar, we had a client who was a perfect client for us. As we spoke with them, we learned that they had the desire to engage with us in our ideal model. It was an ideal model that we were just kicking off and moving toward, but one we were confident we could deliver on.

Unfortunately, the relationship got off to a rocky start.

Here’s what I learned from the situation about how to have a successful client relationship.

1. Be up-front and forthcoming with where you are in the process of building your aspiration.

In this situation, we led the client to believe that we were more mature than we really were. We attempted to be honest, but in our exuberance and our excitement to deliver for them, we gave them a sense of security that was ill-founded.

2. Don’t be so excited and blinded by phenomenal situations that you are willing to engage in them at any cost.

It was such a perfect example that we worked through some financial struggles that put too many handcuffs on us. We were prepared to work with the client and manage expectations, yet we weren’t prepared to actually execute on it.

We had a struggle to really make them see that the budget they came up with, even though they had cut our initial estimates by 40%, really wasn’t going to get them to where they needed to be.

Ultimately, by agreeing to engage with them with creative means, we ended up putting at risk our ability to be successful in the long term.

3. Use your standard operating model no matter how special something (or someone) is.

This relationship was so exciting to us that we decided not to use our standard operating model to execute it. We assigned one of our senior executives as an executive sponsor and, instead of putting within our normal client services organization, asked him to run with it directly.

Because of this, it was outside of the normal process and the checks and balances weren’t in place to make sure that things were running smoothly. The reporting, the eyes of the entire company, and the processes we’ve learned make us successful weren’t there.

We thought we were doing a great job of highlighting this and making it a more important priority, but instead of building upon the foundation we had as a company, we totally made things different and moved and built a house on a lot that didn’t have a foundation.

We should have added the extra oversight with the senior executive on top of the structure that already existed.

4. Continually manage expectations.

We ended up losing a very significant amount of money because those involved didn’t have the fortitude to raise their hands when we started to lose money. It took a while before we realized that we had gotten ourselves into a mess.

Enable employees to raise their hands and to call out issues. Give them the tools to communicate clearly when things are going haywire. Ensure that you set very deliberate expectations that, no matter how special a client or important a customer, that there are certain parameters that we must live within.

If we had had proactive conversations instead of reactive conversations, we would not have lost the money we lost with that account AND we would have saved a relationship.

5. Be ready to tell your clients when they’re wrong.

That’s right: customers don’t always know what they need. They know what they want. By giving them what they want instead of what they need, you jeopardize their business.

This company was a start-up or a subsidiary within another organization. We continually pushed back on different things that we disagreed with, but we weren’t bold enough. We didn’t stand up and say, “You will fail if you do this.”

At the end of the day, the client wasn’t seasoned enough to take our advice. We should have escalated earlier. We should have held to our guns. We knew the decisions they made were fatal flaws, but we got so engrossed in making the customer happy that we weren’t resolved to make the customer successful.

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4 Reasons Why Little Wins Are Big - David DeWolf

4 Reasons Why Little Wins Are Big

As a leader, it’s easy to become obsessed with a grand vision. We know where we want to go and we’re all about telling people about it. We want to change the world, win a sector, or disrupt a market.

Unfortunately, the grand vision isn’t always tangible enough for everyone following you. It also doesn’t always lead to success. Here are four reasons why acknowledging the steps along the way is just as important as casting the vision.

Small victories communicate possibility.

Confidence builds as people see that it is deserved. If your sole focus is on the grand plan, then your constituents won’t know if you’re making progress until you’ve arrived.

As a visionary, you get it. Most others won’t.

Find intermediate destinations – or small victories – to celebrate. Your vision will seem much more of a possibility as people see that you’re making progress towards it.

Little wins build momentum.

Success breeds success. As confidence builds, lessons are learned and adjustments are made. It becomes easier and easier to achieve the next milestone.

Momentum builds one step at a time. It’s hard to stop a moving train. It’s excruciatingly difficult to push it forward in the first place.

Incremental steps provide increased predictability.

A rhythm of achievement provides for better planning. By learning what you can accomplish, what resources are required, and what time is needed, you can better plan for the future. Better plans lead to better execution. And better execution leads to ultimate success.

Small milestones allow for adjustments.

Planning isn’t just about timelines. Each victory is an opportunity to reassess and adjust.

No matter what your vision, your strategy for accomplishing it will be wrong. By developing and executing on a plan based on incremental steps, you will be able to refine your strategy as drastically as you need.

Dream big. Envision the future. But plan and execute in small, bite-sized pieces. It’s hard to oscillate between the two, but, it’s critical for your success and for communicating to those that you lead.

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The Weekly Shufflepass - David DeWolf

The Weekly Shufflepass Episode #004: How Will People Celebrate You? [Podcast]

The Weekly Shufflepass is a series of short podcasts in which I talk about something that’s on my mind. They are quick tidbits. No frills. No production. Just helpful thoughts on how you can go, do something greater than yourself.



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It wasn’t the event I was expecting. In fact, it was life-changing. There was a tractor and kids and a big meal. But it wasn’t a picnic or a family reunion. It was a funeral.

How will people celebrate you at your funeral? Have you ever thought about it?

This week, I challenge you to consider that one thing you know you should be doing but you aren’t yet. What’s keeping you from doing it?

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Find the Element of Truth in Every Story - David DeWolf

The Best Way to Find “the Element of Truth” in Every Story

As CEO, I hear a lot. Of course, there’s a lot I don’t hear as well.

A while back I caught wind of a budding rumor about one of our employees. Supposedly this individual had wasted company resources and, in the process, had really put off a handful of employees. The messenger was quite annoyed, rolling her eyes and advocating for the professionalism of those who had “stood their ground” when tempted to participate.

Over time I have learned an important lesson. There is “an element of truth” within each and every story.

What’s often difficult to discern is which and how big the truthful element is.

In order to prevent politics, I have found that total transparency is essential. Whenever I hear a story, I deliberately share the information with the person affected.

Sometimes the story requires immediate action. Other times you can afford to do a little fact checking. Either way, I make it clear what aspects of the story I know as fact and which are clearly conjecture. I remind the subject that there’s an element of truth within the story and that it’s our job to figure out what it is.

For my “wasteful” employee, I first initiated a very casual investigation.

It turns out that several of the facts behind the story were accurate. The employee had deployed the resources as described, but with the benefit of context it was clear, without a shadow of doubt, that the spending was anything but wasteful. In fact, it was rather inappropriate and detrimental for the “put off” employees to not participate.

Despite debunking any wrongdoing, I still chose to disclose the gossip to the individual. The person deserved to know how their actions were perceived, that I had uncovered the truth, and had dealt with the issue.

Of course, I also confronted the messenger. It was essential for both the source and the messenger to understand the facts and how damaging their gossip could have been.

Transparency is also important when the spirit of the communication is accurate.

Last year I heard a different story about our team’s performance from the client than I had from my team. Our team perceived a “delighted” client. In reality, while ’satisfied,’ there were a couple of unaddressed issues that had spoiled the client’s ability to be truly delighted.

Again, I confronted the issue head-on, sharing with the team leader the exact words that had been passed along by the client and the perception they had because of it. I made it clear that while it represented only one data point, it was a valid data point that directly contradicted what she had previously shared with me. By confronting the disconnect and addressing the perception head-on, the employee was empowered with information and able to address the perception.

I am deliberate about being transparent with the feedback I hear and information I gather. I have seen firsthand, how holding back feedback — especially when it relates to a specific individual, or team — can be a driving force behind bad assumptions and politics. Too many leaders hold back, fearing that they do not have the complete picture. Rather than “protect” those that you lead, try trusting them and involving them in the process of discerning the “element of truth.”

If your employees don’t know what you know, trust will deteriorate, assumptions will grow, the left hand won’t know what the right hand knows, and silos, politics, and turf wars will creep in.

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A Warning for the Financial Services Industry - David DeWolf

A Warning for the Financial Services Industry: You’re on the Cusp of Disruption

Let this be your fog horn. The alarm is sounding.

The financial services industry is on the cusp of disruption. The economic pie that we’re so familiar with is in question. Brokerages may be in trouble. Mutual fund managers and wealth advisors should take heed. Banks may be in for it again.

Robinhood is now offering free trading.

In late 2014, Robinhood launched its online trading platform.

Many people see Robinhood as just another digital product. “It’s just new technology. We’ve seen this before.”

It’s not and no, we haven’t, at least not in this industry. This is not another E-Trade. While wildly successful, E-Trade introduced evolutionary innovation into the market. They introduced technology and automated a process in order to reduce the price and make it more widely available to the masses. They optimized the supply line.

Robinhood has changed the supply line.

While their platform is impressive and their customer experience slick, it is their financial model, not their technology, that the financial behemoths should be worried about. They figured out how to eliminate the middle man, and with it the cost to the consumer.

Robinhood is offering free trading. You can now buy and sell stocks for no cost.

Is this the beginning of the end for professional traders? Maybe for mutual funds? What’s next for wealth managers? Don’t laugh. It could happen now. This is how innovative disruption starts.

Robinhood’s traction exploded. Their waiting list exploding in just a few days as they worked to onboard new customers.

Everyone in financial services should take note.

Robinhood is more than a digital product. It is a disruptive business model that is digitally enabled. It has the potential to revolutionize the financial services industry.

This warning shot is fired in the midst of plenty of other uncertainty for the sector.

Disruptive momentum has been building within Financial Services for quite some time.

Multiple crowd funded startups have not only raised capital, but prevent that you can be successful without traditional Venture Capital in the early phases of the entrepreneurial life cycle. Bitcoin is becoming more and more popular. While some of us (read, me) still don’t get it, enough people are intrigued, and enough big companies are accepting it as payment, that they you can’t help but note the traction. Digital banks have been launched, promising to do for traditional banking what Robinhood has done for stock trading. The #IceBucketChallenge raised more money for a non-profit than most large scale capital campaigns. There’s no questioning whether digital transactions will be embraced.

Two decades ago, digital media startups began to disrupt the economic pie of the mass media industry. Many laughed, claiming that the large publishers were just “too big to fail.”

Is this the beginning of the end for the Financial Services Industry as we know it?

I don’t know, but I do know that in this digital age, if you don’t lead the disruption, you are at risk of being disrupted.

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The Weekly Shufflepass - David DeWolf

The Weekly Shufflepass Episode #003: Economic Proof that Disruption Is Here [Podcast]

The Weekly Shufflepass is a series of short podcasts in which I talk about something that’s on my mind. They are quick tidbits. No frills. No production. Just helpful thoughts on how you can go, do something greater than yourself.

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Disruption isn’t just a theory: it’s the reality of business right now. Even the Fortune 500, thought to be the most stable businesses, is being disrupted!

Leaders in businesses have to prepare for disruption by:

1. Listening to the customer, 2. Applying technology, 3. Thinking outside of the box, and 4. Moving fast.

Spend some time over the course of the next week and think about how you can disrupt your own business.

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