Winning With Winston
Let’s talk about leadership and learn from Sir Winston Churchill, who said some inspirational stuff about beach fighting.
More importantly he drank a bottle of champagne with lunch every day and liked to quote Napoleon’s champagne motto: “In victory, I deserve it. In defeat, I need it!”
Pol Roger was Winston’s preferred brand, and after he died they named their top-of-the-range product after him. Winston is the best champagne there is, and if you feel otherwise: you are wrong. By comparison, Dom Perignon is a nightclub posing prop. And Krug has a weird masculine edge like a guy with lots of after-shave standing too near you on a hot day.
(Side note – people who call champagne “shampoo”: no trial, straight to the stocks in the town square to be pelted with manure.)
We don’t hit it to the same level as ol’ Winston, as the government isn’t paying for our champagne, but we bought a bottle of his stuff last week because we’re in a very good mood after a couple of major tender wins. Both were over a year’s work.
One is a new project, the other a re-contracting of a long-term client. Both are large, for our industry, and each will employ 6-8 of our staff for contracts that last at least five years.
That is really great, but by far the best thing is that both clients are really good, honorable outfits to do business with.
Truth: Some Clients Are Better Than Others
I think it’s important to analyse what makes good clients good. Each day LinkedIn delivers a terabyte of hot tips on how to win new clients. You never read about the importance of winning good clients.
New clients just make your business bigger. Good clients make your business better. And they make your life better long-term.
Here’s a quick list of what makes a good client.
- They actually care about doing a good job for their clients, not just extracting cash at whatever cost. As a supplier, if you’re being held to lofty standards so a client can deliver something great, that’s not a problem. It’s motivating for everyone involved.
- They put a priority on doing things rather than talking about them.
- They give you, the supplier, swift feedback on all the good and bad things. So you always know where you are. If you’re not doing a great job in a certain area – and that will certainly happen – you can’t fix it if you’re waiting for a quarterly review meeting. And speaking of bad things:
- They own errors on their side. When things go off the rails, they don’t just use you as a convenient scapegoat. We’ve all been there.
- Your interests are aligned. If they make money, you make money. It’s not a zero-sum game where they’re just trying to squeeze you like the final remnants in the toothpaste tube.
- You genuinely like them personally. Don’t discount this as some weak, soft-skills viewpoint. I’ve recently had three discussions with unrelated people, all with first-hand experience with a business person who is all over the news lately, and not in a good way. That client is an absolute pig to work with, and they inspire nobody to do their best work.
- They don’t have a hundred layers of management. Information moves around quickly. There are solid relationships at all levels, and the people at the top on both sides will pick up the phone when it’s needed rather than sending long tedious emails that waste everyone’s time.
It’s an actions thing, not words.
Our new client is a young family-owned company, refreshingly free of the usual Vice-Presidents of this and that. They’ve built an entire new city precinct. Above the construction budget, they spent a lot on sustainability and creating something that will be of lasting benefit to their city. Most clients just develop a policy document to hand around in meetings, which achieves not much other than ticking a box.
When they actually reach into their own pocket to support those ideals: good client.
How To Attract Good Clients
The best way to attract that sort of client is: take a look in the mirror. Are you the things on that list? Like attracts like.
A lot of managers just seem really cranky and paranoid. If you think all your staff are lazy and all your suppliers are ripping you off, that mindset runs right through your business. You bring down more and more process, regulation, suspicion and passive-aggressive emails to keep everyone operating in a tight straightjacket.
Service gets doled out in teaspoons, and you attract customers who are just like you. Bad-tempered bargain hunters.
If you support your own staff and suppliers, it shows. And there are plenty of good clients out there.
We have competitors doing a great job. When we call up their clients to ask if we can pitch for their work, and they say: “no thanks, we’ve been working with Competitor X for years and we have a great relationship”, it makes us happy in a strange kind of way to hear that loyalty, rather than the clients who leapfrog from one supplier to another. Long-term, what’s good for our industry is good for us.
The Happy Ending
Something that you don’t see written about much in the business books is the deep enjoyment you get from looking after your staff long-term. In giving them meaningful careers that help them buy houses, raise families and generally feel good about themselves.
I think the reason you don’t read about it much because there is no objective measuring unit for that feeling. It can’t be graphed. So it doesn’t cut much ice with the “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” crowd. Fuck those people.
The client we re-contracted was in a smaller city and without them, our business there would be a borderline commercial proposition. Let me assure you, when we broke the news to our staff, and they realised their long period of living under a cloud was over, the vibe was a deeply wonderful thing, like the feel-good scene at the end of a movie. They’re pumped to get a bunch of stuff done. It reminded us why you start businesses in the first place.
If you liked this, you might enjoy Conversation Is Not Poker: 3 Essential Charm Tips.
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