At the end of the day, your biggest enemy isn’t the one outside — it’s your own unrealized flaws.
TL;DR: Companies analyze their competitors, but they rarely turn that same analytical eye inward. How can you contrast your organization with another if you have no idea what value you bring to the table or where you stand? To find out, you must conduct an internal audit, establish open lines of communication with clients, and act quickly on what you find out.
It’s a common locker room scene: Before the big game, the team scrutinizes video of its upcoming opponent, trying to suss out the other team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses. Companies analyze their competitors too, but they rarely turn that same analytical eye inward. That’s a mistake.
It’s a common locker room scene: Before the big game, the team scrutinizes video of its upcoming opponent, trying to suss out the other team’s biggest strengths and weaknesses. Companies analyze their competitors, too, but they rarely turn that same analytical eye inward. That’s a mistake.
Why? Because quite frankly, your company’s weaknesses can do far more damage than your competitors. Your strengths are reminders that you have the capacity to improve in other areas.
Think of it this way: How can you contrast your organization with another if you have no idea what value you bring to the table or where you stand? It’s time for an internal audit.
Step 1: Conduct a Thorough Internal Assessment
Conducting an honest assessment of your company is a humbling experience. It’s kind of like creating a dating profile: You need to think about your attractive, unique qualities while simultaneously accepting that you’re flawed. It’s not pretty, but necessary.
Start your internal audit by listing everything you bring to the table when it comes to client relationships. Nothing’s off-limits, so let it all hang out. What do you do best in your field? Do you offer a competitive rate? Is your workflow unique in your industry? What kinds of products and services are you poised to offer that others cannot or do not? How do your internal operations benefit customers, employees, and vendors?
At this point, you’ll probably be feeling good, but brace yourself. You’ve only examined half the story. You need to dig deeper and figure out where you’re not so shiny and golden. It’s like a home walk-through by a prospective buyer: The buyer isn’t just checking out the marble countertops and hardwood floors; she wants to know about the leaky roof and subpar electrical system, too.
Customers are your best resource for genuine, hard-hitting feedback on how you’re performing. A thick skin is essential as you interview them — your customers can often tell you about problems you didn’t know existed. This is an important part of the process because you can’t improve friction points unless you hear about them. If possible, talk to people who chose not to hire your company. Find out why they said “no,” and learn from their feedback.
The journey won’t be easy, but it will give you incredible insight.
Step 2: Maintain a continuous dialogue with customers.
After your internal assessment, you should have a clear understanding of where you’re flying high and where you’re falling flat. But don’t make the mistake of thinking your audit is finished. In fact, it’s never going to be finished because you’re going to want to continue adding processes and procedures to keep improving your game.
First, set the tone in your kickoff meetings with clients. Give them a survey and explain your processes. Next, institute client check-ins. Assumptions aren’t your friend, so don’t make them — just because you’re not getting pushback doesn’t mean your client is happy. End every meeting with these questions: “Is there something we haven’t answered? Are you feeling uncomfortable about anything? Is there something you don’t understand?” Listen to the answers. Then, make changes.
At each project milestone, continue your inquiries to re-evaluate relationships. Be open to the hard feedback, not just the feel-good stuff. If your customers feel like they’re missing out or you’re off track, you need to know immediately. Misalignment and miscommunication between companies and customers leads to disenchantment. Be engaged throughout the breadth of the experience — not just the end, which is when most organizations send out a questionnaire or request input.
Constant dialogue based on directed questions gives you the client’s perspective. From there, you can take action.
Step 3: Learn to respond quickly.
As your self-evaluation unfolds, you’re going to notice issues, both big and small. Act quickly, especially on those issues that could escalate and lead to bad feelings or confusion. Your role is to maintain happy client relationships. At the first inkling of a problem, gather internal information and get on the phone. Don’t let anything languish.
When projects close, talk about positive and negative feedback among colleagues — outlining steps for improvement. Don’t gloss over the things you’re doing well. Those good practices can be used to rectify poor practices or minimize negative impact. Slay your weaknesses one by one, beginning with the ones that are threatening your reputation and bottom line. This is triage at its finest, and it will lead to more satisfying client experiences.
Making systemic, data-driven alterations in the way your company performs and operates will have far-reaching consequences. At the end of the day, your biggest enemy isn’t the one outside — it’s your own unrealized flaws. Strike them down as they rear their heads, and you’ll crush the competition.