By Andrew Neitlich

Surveying Clients Part II

By Andrew Neitlich


In last week’s blog, a reader (type0) asked why one should use a colleague to survey clients, and whether compensation is expected.

About compensation: Yes, compensation is expected. In fact, many consulting firms make a practice out of interviewing clients of professional service firms and reporting back results and recommendations.

About whether you should do it yourself:

The short answer is that it depends. An objective colleague often can get your clients to share more information and be more blunt than if you do it yourself. Also, many IT professionals are not great at taking feedback professionally. They tend to get defensive, because they have such a personal stake in their work. And that can hurt the relationship. So an objective colleague keeps things professional.

However, if you know how to take feedback (e.g. ask open ended questions, detach yourself, direct the client to areas that interest you, never argue or defend yourself, never blame the client, be grateful, take each interview as a data point not a statistically valid survey, etc…..) then you can do it yourself. In fact, if you do, and do it professionally, you end up improving relationships more solidly than if you use an outsider.

So it is up to you and your own ability to encourage clients to give open and honest feedback, while taking tough advice like a pro.

  • What is the purpose of actually surveying clients?

    After-sale support? Wouldn’t it be better to build an open relationship with them first so they’re comfortable telling you how they really feel?

    Pre-sales qualifying? Seems like a lot of speculative cost. Are there any numbers on the cost of doing this versus the average returns? It could be a great way to advance your sales efforts… but might hiring a salesperson be more effective?

  • aneitlich

    Regarding Dnyarri’s questions:

    1. The purpose of surveying clients is not so much about the clients but about your own strengths and weaknesses as a company/professional. The other purpose is to get objective feedback about how you are perceived in the market (vs. how you wish you were perceived). Any additional sales are only a fringe benefit — but one that often follows.

    2. It has nothing to do with pre-sales qualifying. Regarding salespeople — see an upcoming article in Sitepoint about that topic.

    3. Surveying is in addition to building an open relationship with them. However, I have found (as have my own consulting clients who are IT professionals) that many clients won’t give objective feedback directly — regardless of how open the relationship is. Also, an outsider who surveys clients tells the client that you are willing to invest in the relationship.

    4. Here are two specific examples of the benefits of doing this: A small consulting firm interviewed clients to assess their overall satisfaction with them. They used an outsider. They found that their entire marketing message needed to be revamped because the surveyed clients revealed a new, more powerful way for them to position their services. This repositioning helped them increase sales and they became an Inc. 500 company two years later. Second, three clients who hadn’t worked with them for a year called after the survey (and a personal thank you from the President of the company) to re-establish the relationship with additional projects.

    Second, a Fortune 1000 IT consulting firm implemented this strategy and attributed an incremental $6 million in sales (from 6 different clients) to this approach.

    Again, you can do this yourself as part of after-delivery support, or you can hire someone to do it for you. I prefer the latter. Either way, surveying clients after any engagement should be part of your methodology if it isn’t already.

    Andrew Neitlich

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