You can take a horse to water…

…But you can’t make it drink. Thing is: what happens if the horse doesn’t know it’s thirsty?

I’ve always had a strange relationship with this quote. With no rational reason why – from the first time I heard it, I’ve always thought: What if the horse is so deliriously dehydrated it doesn’t know it needs water?

Of course, no longer having the imagination of an eight year old (leave it), I know that’s a ridiculous statement to make. Well, it was – until I fielded a valuable question from one of our sales staff about discussing running meetings with clients over our MeetTheBoss video platform: “What if the client doesn’t want to meet with us over video?”

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Very valid point – especially when we’re talking about clients we’ve been working with for years. Why would they want to change the way they’ve been working with us? Why schedule time for a video call when a phone call has sufficed in the past? Why would they now want to meet the rest of the team working on their campaign?

Well, just like the dehydrated horse (disclaimer: our client’s aren’t dehydrated horses), the answer sits at the centre of the entire client relationship management movement for GDS: it’s all about getting our clients to buy in to the reasons why we’re asking them to work with us this way. Without it, there’s absolutely no way we can work towards the exceptional.

Or, to put it another way: we need to make them feel the thirst.

For GDS, that means being approachable in the way we explain how our video platform functions; the simplicity in joining from any device and the ease at which we can introduce entire teams to one another. It means unveiling the intentions at hand for doing so – namely, to ensure the best possible results for a client’s campaign above and beyond mere box ticking – putting us in a position to be as close to the client as possible, without suffocating the experience.

But in order to do so, we need to ensure due diligence our end. We need to be able to guarantee full and absolute technical support (with our exceptional, always-on technical team that won’t be a problem) to induce the smoothest of processes. We need to be able to secure times and dates – and know they’ll be kept to. We need to build trust with our clients that what we’re doing is for the greater good.

But most importantly: we need the process to work to allow us to set, manage and monitor expectations with our clients. We’re here to be held to them in their entirety.

How we do that is wrapped up nicely in next week’s blog, live and direct from Miami….

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Windows to the soul

Look into my eyes. Not around the eyes, but into the eyes. Turns out it’s not just hypnotists that need eye contact to succeed…

I talked a lot (read: incessantly) about the customer journey and our new follow-up process on the tail end of last year. And for those of you who think I’m making a new year’s resolution to change tack – think again.

Welcome to 2014. And for my first blog of the year – welcome to the world of client relationship management. One week in, and our Head of Client Relationship Management has already delivered his end of the Bristol bargain with seven presentations to our sales teams. For Mike, at least, it’s a case of one down, two to go as we head out to New York for a week before jumping across to Miami for more of the same.

Groundhog day it may well be, but with good reason: strong client relationship management is central to GDS’ future – not because it allows us to deliver better results for our clients (that should be inherent), but because it draws us back down to the essence of our business: people.

Of course, you could argue that’s the essence of every business, but let me expand: the conversations our events accelerate are only ever as good as the relationships we can build with those we invite leading up to them. Why? Frankly put, because our clients are part of our product spec. They have to be.

With that in mind, our first port of call on the client relationship management voyage docks at technology bay. Or – for those of you not reading this on the Bering Sea – it’s all about leveraging the video technology we have with MeetTheBoss to create a face-to-face environment to talk with our clients.

That’s talk. Not sell.

Alexander Bell may have created one of the world’s most important tools for communication with the telephone, but to this day it carries with it one inescapable flaw: an absolute lack of visibility from both sides. To take any relationship – personal or professional – to its next stage, you need faces. Faces build trust, and trust builds relationships.

Over the coming months, Mike and GDS’ senior management will be focusing on the importance of embracing client relationship management in its nascent stages. As for myself, I’ll be offering a running commentary of the why’s, how’s and when’s across the next few blogs and delve into why client relationship management is more of a two way street than most care to imagine.

For now, I’m off to grab one of New York’s finest coffees and say hello to our staff from across the pond.

Good morning jet lag.

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Delivery or pick up, sir?

It’s Saturday night. You’ve decided on pizza. You place the order, and then it happens: do you want to pick up, or do you want a delivery…for the same price…without having to do anything…

As a student, I never understood the takeaway option. To me, there was no option: delivery every time. If I was paying, why would I want to pick anything up if there was the option of having it delivered for free?

Fast-forward to last week’s blog, and I was talking about the bridges we’re building to allow our clients to better navigate their customer journeys with GDS. I exposed the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’; looked at what it means to us as a company and the direction it’s about to take us. But the burning question at the heart of all of this: what does it all mean to our clients and their customers?

Welcome to the GDS delivery service.

Pizza-Delivery-6

Now, I’m not suggesting that we run a free pizza delivery service (after all, we are a business and we don’t serve pizza). But the convenience we can offer is just as powerful to our clients as any delivery company on a rainy Saturday night. Why?

Because they don’t have to move a muscle.

They’ve already paid for a product; they know what they’ve ordered and they know when to expect it. Congratulations on making a tenuous analogy. So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem for the industry at large is that they only provide a pick up service. An event is created, relative parties are invited down to attend, and the rest is up to them. Win or lose, it’s on their shoulders. Thanks for coming.

With GDS’ follow-up journey, we don’t just make the product – we deliver it. For our clients, that means being able to rely on a service that identifies with their needs, aligns with their goals and respects their timelines. It also means that we don’t expect our customers to fund the legwork for results.

But perhaps more interestingly, we can, very literally, deliver what they want to their front (office) doors, with our ever-evolving video conferencing platform – and that is where the true power of the follow-up journey comes into play.

As The Virgin Group’s CMO, Ian Rowden, said of the brand in a recent interview with MeetTheBoss TV: “They don’t just play like everyone else. They change things for the better.”

I’d like to think we’re not far off that sentiment with that we’re delivering to our clients today. The next step?

Express delivery.

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The Bridge That Time Built

Last week I ran through the mountain range that is the customer journey. This week, I explain how we help our clients build new routes across them…

As the recently departed artist and author, Les Coleman, once said: “A bridge has no allegiance to either side.” It’s a quote that’s stuck with me for years – and one that has never been more applicable than it is with GDS today.

And while I’d plant myself in firm agreement with Mr Coleman, I’ll take it one step further: a bridge’s allegiance belongs not to the sides it anchors itself on, but to those to walk upon it.

And so it is with the bridges we’re building between those all-important summit peaks to better plot our clients’ journeys. Last week, I gave you the why; this week, it’s all about the how.

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Consider this first: The final countdown is often anything but for our clients. Timescales change, priorities shift and diaries fill up – and before they know it, all the time they had ahead of them is now whistling by, while follow-up meetings become harder and harder to book.

So what’s the answer? Of course, it would be naïve for us to suggest that we can control time for our clients – but what we can do it manage it for them. And that’s where the ‘how’ comes in.

The question you have to ask yourself is why is time so important to our clients? Well, for starters, it’s a case of relationship building; the longer you leave that relationship, the more that relationship erodes. Pass that relationship off to another member of your team; it erodes. Find yourself in a game of ‘call the PA’; it erodes. Go on holiday to the Bahamas for two weeks and never call while you’re probably outside drinking Pina Col…you get the drift.

Next up, you have to consider excitement and interest levels. If you’ve done the work and heightened interest levels, you need to strike while the iron is hot – hard to do three months down the line.

Last, but by no means least: access. We all work in today’s ‘always on’ digital arena – one where schedules change at the drop of a hat. Gaining access to those schedules is pivotal to cementing meetings and following up on the relationships you’ve invested both money and energy into. Again, not easy to do if you’re only on business-card terms.

The ‘how’ from GDS comes into play within these three spheres of influence. We lean on the deep-seated relationships we have with our delegate network to ensure the bonds they have with our clients don’t become stale. We absolutely abuse the privilege we have in our virtual meeting platform with MeetTheBoss to connect discussions and keep them flowing hours, days and weeks after a Summit has finished – complete from the comfort of offices and slotted easily into working days.

But perhaps the most important ‘how’ belongs within access. Why? Because, in working closely with our delegates across everything we do, we build trusted relationships. And in building trusted relationships, we gain exclusive visibility into diaries to schedule meetings that work for both parties, free from bias and pressure.

And when we do that, we start building bridges.

What those bridges mean today is already being proven with MeetTheBoss and its follow-up process. What it means tomorrow – for both GDS and its clients – in terms of delivery and execution, is where I’ll be heading next week…

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The Peak of the Summit

They say that one of the most dangerous parts of climbing a mountain is the descent – and when it comes to the world of events, the very same has been true of the client journey. Until now…

I’ve been talking a lot about the customer journey recently, and with good cause: it’s the epicentre of how we move forward with GDS. Being close, understanding needs and providing the best experience possible all play key and obvious roles. But none of that matters if results don’t live up to expectation – and pointing fingers isn’t an option.

Traditionally, taking responsibility for those results has meant ensuring we place the right people – at the right time – in front of our clients to give them the best possible opportunity to accelerate their sales pipelines.

The problem? That’s not the journey.

Take a GDS Summit. We plan, invite, secure and align everything and everyone needed to make the summit a success. We match clients with decision makers, schedule meetings, work with our analyst partners and create engaging workshops.

"Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley." – Theodore Roethke

“Over every mountain there is a path, although it may not be seen from the valley.” – Theodore Roethke

Meanwhile, our clients are in their offices planning pitches, writing keynotes and finalising itineraries. We meet on site, introduce them to the next two-and-a-half days and work diligently to ensure everyone is happy. We say our goodbyes, follow up with every attendee back in the office and get that all-too-important feedback.

And then we prepare for the next one.

So what’s missing? Well, think of that summit as a mountain for a second, with its peak being the summit itself, and its sides representing the work rate pre and post event. As the old saying goes, what goes up must come down.

Except for our clients, what comes down often represents how difficult it becomes to secure follow-up meetings with choice delegates. Diaries fill up, sales hierarchies change and office politics get in the way. Before you know it, three months have passed…and that’s where a descent can become dangerous.

Now zoom out of that mountain and look at the entire mountain range. Every one of those peaks is a GDS summit. The mountain range? That’s the customer’s journey.

It’s our job to start building bridges between those peaks to make it easier for our customers to traverse that range and plot more effective journeys.

How do we do that? All I’ll say until next week is it involves no avalanches…

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Lessons from…Local Radio?

Sometimes you learn from those you lead. Sometimes you learn from those leading you. And sometimes – just sometimes – you learn from somewhere completely different…

Last week I talked about becoming a more agile company. I leant on the (re)building blocks of Lego’s CEO and asked: If it’s not good for the customer journey, why are we doing it?

Driving home that evening, I got a fresh take on the answer – straight from a local radio advert.

Spencer Green GDS local radio blog image

I’m not the only one taking inspiration from local radio. Oh.

Far from being original (I’ve seen it on countless removal vans), the company in question signed off by claiming they were “big enough to cope; small enough to care”.

Did I think they were? Probably. Should they replace the word ‘cope’? Absolutely.

But what really struck me was the direct correlation between the size of the company and their perceived ability to deliver an exceptional service for their customers.

Unlike the ‘no job too big or small’ mantra (the king of vague promises) that focuses solely on getting the job done – what they were saying was simple in its message, but infinite in its power: We’re not here for everyone. We’re here for you.

While it may sound like I’ve just stolen a quote from a Hallmark card, my underlying points remains: Aligning to the customer journey has to be priority number one.

And for that, size does matter.

GDS has changed dramatically over the past few weeks: a smaller portfolio, a reduced workforce and new internal dynamics. And it’s all positive. Why? Because in becoming a more concentrated unit, we can offer even more focus to that small business mentality that shamelessly strives to plant itself at the core of every one of our customer’s journeys.

Sure, we have a global footprint as a company. Yes, we work across a variety of industrial verticals. But we’ll never dilute ourselves. Our future doesn’t belong to being big enough to cope – it belongs to being big enough to care.

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The Future is Agile

When he took over as CEO of Adidas, Herbert Hainer said his biggest challenge was to turn a supertanker into speedboats. ‘It is,’ he says ‘the fastest one who will win the race.’ I’m no megabrand CEO, but I agree – there are lessons in his statement for all of us…

For the past few weeks I’ve been talking about our focus on the customer journey, and what that’s meant for GDS International. Part of it has centred on the importance of communication. Another part has looked at how we need to change as a company to reflect that new focus. We need to be a tighter, more connected company.

We need to be agile.

This thinking is neither new nor exclusive to business. Charles Darwin said: ‘In the long history of humankind those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.’

Collaboration and agility require close connections. They blossom where different people with different responsibilities are united under a common goal, and suffocate in bureaucracy.

From supertanks to speedboats...

“…from supertanks to speedboats…”

That is where we are taking our business. Dedicated, multi-skilled teams closely connected with each other and our customers, and incentivised – as a group – to deliver products to (and beyond!) our already high standards.

This new way of team working is exciting, but it’s for nothing without a focus on the right products.

Jørgen Vig Knudstorp is a former consultant with McKinsey, now CEO of Lego. When he took over the company was in deep trouble – not because it was doing too little, but because it was doing too much. Jørgen turned Lego around, and summed up his learning thus: ‘in my experience, companies don’t die of starvation. They die of indigestion.’

Lego was spread too thin, and that is a very real danger for anyone and everyone with ambition. The warning lines are everywhere (don’t run before you can walk, eyes too big for your belly, don’t bite off more than you can chew) but… so is opportunity.

We are being realistic with our resource based on one question: how many products can we deliver brilliantly? That is the space in which GDS plays. We’re not a volume company; we’re a quality company. That hard-won understanding is at the heart of all our decisions today.

That is why every one at GDS must be connected to each and every one of our customers. That is why we must be agile. After all, as our operations director asked the other day, ‘if it’s not good for our customer’s journey, why are we doing it?’

We have had to make some tough decisions at GDS over the past few weeks in pursuit of agility – decisions we all understand, decisions taken for the undoubted common good. But that doesn’t make them easy.

Last week I had the unenviable task of letting a number of staff go. How do you tell someone they no longer have a role to play at your company? Even if you know the decision is the right one for the business?

Two of the people we said goodbye to have been with us for many years; others, no less valued, have made a big impact in a shorter space of time. Their contribution to the growth of the company has been huge, and I’m personally as well as professionally proud to have worked with them all. A few weeks back I spoke of the idea of an organization being like an extended family; I still believe that, which is what has made this so difficult.

I believe in the changes we’ve made. I believe they will lead to a stronger, better business – one that continues to offer opportunities for its entire staff. And one that is more focused, more connected and better able to deliver strong results – both for us and for our customers.

My heartfelt thanks go out to all that have contributed to the GDS story so far. But now it’s time to look forward to the next chapter.

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