Creating consistency amidst a sea of change

Karl Palachuk

When people are traveling, why do they eat at McDonalds? Because it’s “known” to them. It’s familiar. They know what to expect. It’s consistent.

The same should be true of any business. Consistency allows your clients to feel comfortable with you, your company, and your service. After all, if they have a different experience every time, that makes it pretty easy for them to call someone else!

Consistency is truly the first building block of your brand. The way you talk to clients, answer the phone, manage invoices, document your work… the way you do everything should be consistent. When you hire employees, you need to train them in your way of doing things. They are an extension of your brand.

Consistency in a sea of change

One of the biggest challenges in technology is managing a world of change. No industry changes faster than technology. It’s the changes in technology that drive most changes in all the other industries. It’s like we’ve built our businesses on a conveyer belt that never stops moving.

How do you build a consistent brand in a world that never stops changing? After all, you can’t ignore it and you might as well embrace it.

I recommend you become the change manager for your clients. That means actively engaging them in this world of change. This will contribute to your role as consultant and educator. It will also show them that you see things strategically and you’re not just out to take their money. Here’s a big thing you can do to take on the role of change manager: Adopt a philosophy of change.

For example, we encourage clients to adopt these policies:

  1. a) Buy business class equipment with a three-year warranty – and plan to replace it in three years. Some will stretch this to four years, but they’ll know your philosophy.
  2. b) It’s always okay to skip one generation of software (or hardware), but try not to skip two or more. As hardware and software features leap frog each other, you’ll never be completely up to date on everything. Skipping a generation relieves some pressure but also means you’re never too far out of date.
  3. c) Hold strategic meetings. I call them Roadmap Meetings. This is a time to talk about changes that are coming, how they affect the client, and the best time to implement them (which might be never).

With all of these, you become the consultant who knows what’s ahead but doesn’t constantly ask the client to move faster than they’re comfortable moving. It’s very powerful to talk about change and not ask the client to spend money today. That makes it easy for them to engage you in discussions about change without feeling that your hand is always in their wallet.

Clients trust a consultant more when he says, “I wouldn’t spend the money today, but . . ..” This style of conversation also allows you to talk pricing without giving an exact quote. You can talk rough numbers and let the client start doing calculations in his head.

The really good news about adopting a philosophy of change is that you get to talk about it a lot more. Because you’re talking about change all the time, and in a non-threatening way, clients are happy to engage in the discussions.

Most clients will pay attention to about 20% of your communications. They’ll read some newsletters, but not all. As with all modern communication, they’ll tune in and out. Here’s the key: When they tune IN, they’ll see you talking about change – consistently!

When you make change management part of your brand, you provide a consistent voice and a consistent message. You’ll never have a client question the move to a new technology because you’ll have the reputation – the “brand” – of only recommending a move when you really think it’s in their best interest.

Don’t forget the competition

This philosophy toward change is also a great differentiator for you. Most of your competition is doing one of two things: under-selling or over-selling.

Consultants who under-sell also under-serve their clients. Very often, they’re trying to save clients money – even if the client hasn’t asked them to. These consultants tend to sell lower quality (cheaper) equipment and let clients use old equipment and software. This reduces the client’s overall productivity and security.

Consultants who under-sell also under-serve their clients because those clients have more problems. Aside from downtime, they spend resources trying to make new solutions (either hardware or software) work with old technology (both hardware and software).

Consultants who over-sell create a different set of problems. Clients begin to avoid certain topics because they don’t want to get caught in another sales presentation. They begin avoiding the consultant altogether. As a result, over-selling leads to lower sales!

Consultants who over-sell also tend to be treated like the boy who cried wolf. When there’s a real, imminent problem with the server, the client won’t know whether it’s legitimate or just another sales ploy.

You can see how this also opens the consultant to competition and competing bids. Once you have a client, it’s nice to not have to compete on every project. But if you oversell, then you’re seen as an outsider and not a trusted consultant and member of the team.

Providing consistency in a sea of change is a great way to improve your brand and your service. Sometimes, there are things you just can’t avoid. Instead, embrace them as part of your brand – and differentiate yourself from the competition.