Growing Your B2B Small Business with Robert Poole

Don't Be Afraid of Feedback-Be Afraid of No Feedback

May 10, 2021 Robert Poole Season 1 Episode 71
Don't Be Afraid of Feedback-Be Afraid of No Feedback
Growing Your B2B Small Business with Robert Poole
More Info
Growing Your B2B Small Business with Robert Poole
Don't Be Afraid of Feedback-Be Afraid of No Feedback
May 10, 2021 Season 1 Episode 71
Robert Poole

Ever been nervous to reach out to a client and ask them what they think of your service or product? Sometimes, it’s easier to stick our heads in the sand. Why? It’s tough to hear both haters nasty and loud opinions, and sometimes it’s equally tough to hear the truth.  Hater or truther, you can’t ignore feedback as it’s one of the best tools we have. So HOW do we get constructive feedback from our clients that we can implement to grow our B2B small business? 

Show Notes Transcript

Ever been nervous to reach out to a client and ask them what they think of your service or product? Sometimes, it’s easier to stick our heads in the sand. Why? It’s tough to hear both haters nasty and loud opinions, and sometimes it’s equally tough to hear the truth.  Hater or truther, you can’t ignore feedback as it’s one of the best tools we have. So HOW do we get constructive feedback from our clients that we can implement to grow our B2B small business? 

Hey everyone. It's Robert Poole with the Growing Your B2B Small Business podcast. You ever been guilty of avoiding client feedback because you really didn't want to hear the negative? I know I have. Let's talk about how to use feedback to shave literally years off the path to growth in your business and how you can actually do it.

You have a small business that sells to other businesses? If so, you probably know that there are plenty of resources for companies that market to consumers or companies that sell to large and Fortune 500 type companies. But what about the small businesses in the middle who sell to other companies? Where do we go to get answers? How do we grow our company consistently while still keeping our sanity? That's the question, and this podcast is the answer. If you're listening to this podcast, you're part of an elite group of achievers who aren't willing to settle for just a nine to five job. You're one of the heroes in our society, and you should be proud of it. Welcome to the tribe and welcome home.

Okay, everyone. I hope you're having a fantastic day. In the last episode, we talked about the importance of attracting the right clients and how to get rid of the wrong ones. In this episode, we're going to talk about getting feedback while we sometimes struggle with it and how we can use it to grow our business. So let's get real basic. What is feedback? I mean, from my perspective, feedback is nothing more than unfiltered communication from your clients or your customers, particularly as it relates to your product or service and as it relates to their problems, their challenges and their concerns. I mean, it's as simple as that. I mean, getting feedback from your clients should be an obvious thing and maybe you and your company are great at it. Unfortunately, I've not always been and it's still a work in progress in our company. This may not be your experience. And to be honest, I haven't talked to a lot of other business owners about this as it tends to be a touchy subject when I bring it up.

For me, I had the wrong attitude and the wrong thought process for many years. I've been in B2B sales for 25 years and as of this recording, the last 20 years running my B2B marketing company's sales dibble, which specializes in cold calling. And during that time, I'm ashamed to say it's only been probably in the last four or five years of my company and I've started to make a concerted effort to solicit and use feedback to grow our business. So the question is, why did I, and I imagine other entrepreneurs, maybe you maybe not, but avoid getting feedback from our clients and our customers? Well, in my opinion, there a couple of factors. The biggest one in my experience is the fear of hearing from our clients that our product or service doesn't work.

It's a substandard solution, basically what we call negative feedback. I mean, it's comical when I think about it, but even after 15 years and tens of millions in revenue with clients who'd been with us from almost since the beginning, in the back of my mind, I still doubted. I thought, "Well, are our clients getting their money's worth? Does our service actually work for them," and so on. When I think about it, it's logically ludicrous. I mean, if our service didn't work, why would some of our oldest clients have paid us hundreds of thousands of dollars for a solution that didn't work, but as you know, sometimes logic and emotion are two different things. I think the reason that this was in the back of my mind is that again, we were relying on what we and I thought about our company, not from a third party's perspective.

So why else did I avoid feedback? I mean, it's easy to take bad feedback personally, and let's face it, as entrepreneurs, our company are our babies. And it's like someone insulting our kid. That's not what we want to hear. Another reason I think I fell into was the fantasy that I and we at our company knew more about what our clients needed than they did. If we're in a bubble and just rely on our own ideas and opinions, we can't possibly know what's actually valuable and worth getting paid for. And this is a major mistake I made for many years. And then what about effort? I mean, let's not kid ourselves and thinking it won't take time and a consistent system and quite a bit of effort. If we haphazardly do it when we feel like it, getting feedback just won't work and it'll be useless.

Like I said, I've been guilty of this one many times and that's changed. If we get feedback which we know is valid and we know you should make those changes based on the feedback, guess what? We actually have to make the changes. And sometimes it's not minor things, but it can be literally moving our company in different direction and that's not easy to do and sometimes we avoid this because of it. The last reason I've found and I'm sure there are more is what I call waking in the sleeping giant. We have services that run from less than $100 to thousands per month. I mean, have you ever looked at your credit card statement and saw that charge for 495 for some service that you don't use and then thought, "Geez, I need to cancel that"?

But then you just didn't get around to it month to month. But what happens if that company emails you and says, "Hey, what do you think of our product and service?" I mean, that may be just the push you need to cancel. We're always afraid that by contacting them that it might spur them to finally call and complain about something that they've been meaning to, but just didn't get around to it and now we gave them the impetus or the reminder to do it. For many years, we didn't ask for feedback from our clients because we were afraid that if we reminded us that they were paying us, they might decide to quit. I mean, in retrospect dumb, but that was the mentality.

So hopefully that's not your mentality and you've got this all figured out, but stick with me for a few minutes as I think everyone can benefit from few of the mistakes that we've made in the screw ups over the years. Whenever I'm looking at a strategy or a tactic in business, I always look at the downside to not implementing it and also the upside potential to implementation. Those are some of the downsides to not getting feedback and having it open in communication. But what are the upsides? Well, of course, a lot of them are just the opposites of negatives. Number one, it's confidence for you as the owner. If you've ever experienced what I'm talking about, questioning in the back of your mind whether your solution actually works and it's actually a good investment for your customers, I mean, this is huge. If you get positive feedback from clients, it does wonders for your confidence. It builds your confidence in selling new clients and your confidence in aggressively growing your company and getting the word out.

Since we started getting more consistent feedback from our clients, we've had clients tell us that they did 10 deals in the last year and half of them were from us. I mean, that's [inaudible 00:06:10] the client getting a 40x payout from what they invested us or more. I mean, talk about a confidence booster. And we now out here regularly hear feedback like this because we're asking for it. Also, confidence for you as the owner, basically knowing your solution is helping other people is often better than money I mean, certainly in the long run. When we get started, money is what we're mostly focused on, but over time it becomes something else and that's what keeps us going. The money only goes so far, but as entrepreneurs and leaders, we're not our company.

I mean, we're the leader and we may do some tasks that are more worker related, but the reality is our team runs our business from day to day if you have one and they make things happen, but it's hard for them to do if they don't have that same confidence. So giving them that confidence makes them feel better about what they're doing and happy employees stick with you. And by getting feedback, you're going to know which clients are happy, which needs some TLC, and this is tricky if you have large number of customers so you don't know them by name, but you can target solutions to feedback to that group of customers based upon answers to surveys and things like that.

Next, and this is a big one. Your customers will feel heard. Customer service people are taught to listen and let customers vent. Why? Because if the customer feels heard, they're likely going to give you the benefit of the doubt with any problems and be happier in general. The next one is probably the biggest reason to get feedback systematically and regularly. You and your team will know what your customers actually want versus what you think they want. I mean, this allows you to pivot your solution to fit your client's needs and this'll build raving fans over time as they're getting exactly what they want and need. And finally, this reason is sometimes painful to admit to myself, but you and your team are just not smart enough to come up with all the ideas and solutions. I know I'm not at least from my experience. When we had actually solicited and act on feedback, we were stuck in sort of a group thinking at our company and limited in our ideas.

I mean, no one can figure it out all by themselves and your customers will suggest ideas that you've never thought of. And you'll also find out inside info on your competitors as clients will tell you why they use a competitor or what it was like to be a customer with them, et cetera. Okay. So that's great in theory like any business training, but if you don't have specifics on how to implement, it's just theory that makes you feel good. Knowledge isn't power, although they like to say it is. Knowledge act upon is power. Execution trumps knowledge every day of the week. So how do we actually solicit and get quality feedback?

First of all, it's mindset and I'm not a big fan of that word mindset as it's overused and everybody likes to talk about it. To me, it's more like an attitude and thinking, but I'm going to use it here for convenience. To get started, you have to admit to yourself and then accept that you're going to get good and bad feedback. Be okay with the bad as much as the good. So start looking forward to constructive feedback for all the reasons that we just talked about. I mean, it's okay and you want to hear the truth so embrace it. Take the attitude that you can't help your clients if you don't know what they think and what's important to them. So once you get this "mindset" right, how do you actually take action when you first have to look about the process of how to actually get quality feedback? There are really two different situations in my mind when I think about soliciting feedback. There's the more personal one-on-one and the less personal, but this is important. And both of these are permanently due to the size or the number of your clients or customers.

I mean, if you have a small number of clients that you know by name like maybe under 50 or whatever, you can do things like interview them over the phone and video and send personalized emails to the clients, to small group forums and sponsoring fun activities where you're actually interacting with them one-on-one, go to a baseball game together or whatever. For companies that have more customers where you don't have that one-on-one relationship, you have to gather more generalized feedback. I mean, you can do things like surveys via email or social media and even phone based, forums or open seminars, a random sampling of direct contact for feedback. I mean, a good sample size statistically is about 10%, so if you had 1000 clients, 100 you might call and directly ask some questions. Maybe an incentive for feedback, a gift card, whatever. I mean, I'm generally not a fan of these as I'm a little bit more interested in people who will feel strongly one way or the other about their opinion, but it can be done depending on the situation.

So with either of the more personalized or the larger number of clients, there are a couple of common components that I think you want to make sure are included. I mean, first, make it super easy and convenient for the clients. If you ask them for too much of their time, they're simply not going to do it. I love these surveys that say, "Hey, give us 12 minutes of your time." It's like, I don't care enough to give you 12 minutes of my time, but if they say give me one minute every time for two questions, it's like, "Okay, then I might answer it." So make it short and only pick the very important questions. You can do multiple surveys and ask only one or two questions. But first of all, pick the highest priority questions that you need to know and that's usually what their biggest problem is and how will your solution solve that problem. And let clients know how much you value them and their thoughts.

So those are the big components. Now we've got some strategies on how to collect, but what do we do with the feedback that we gather from our customers? Again, the two categories, the more personalized one and the generalization for a large number of clients. For the more personalized ones, the one-on-one feedback, take the answers you get and start putting them into a spreadsheet or something simple. What was their feedback and how would you categorize that feedback? Was it related to a product feature of yours or service feature, customer service changes, pricing, whatever? Just kind of be generic and figure out just a wide 30,000 foot view category. After you start getting some significant feedback, I'd say maybe at least 10, probably more than that, but start looking at the categories and most likely, the responses are going to be common across the board as far as the categories. It's going to be very similar things. Once you've categorized them, then you can start evaluating them by kind of summarizing each category. Like for instance, customers seem to feel like we need X feature or whatever, and figure out which ones are valid and which one the clients think are valid, which is really the most important thing.

And that last part is one we've stumbled on. I mean, when reviewing feedback, categorizing, et cetera, sometimes we have the thought that, "Well, that's not valid. The client's wrong. What they need to do is X because we said so," but when you think about it, it actually doesn't matter if the customer's feedback is Fantasyland or if they have legit critique. Both are just as important. What matters is the customer's perception of your solution and whatever they're giving you feedback from. If you view your feedback as invalid or wrong, it means one thing, either you haven't educated to clients about your solution or you haven't explained things properly. So after you get feedback, I mean, categorize it, evaluate the valid ideas, and it's time to execute. However importantly, when you're done with interviewing and working with clients, let them know how much you appreciate them and their business. Do this when you're getting the feedback and don't wait. After you implement an idea that a client gives you and it works, talk to the client, let them know, "Hey, we've implemented this solution per your suggestion," and thank them again for sharing with you.

This will do huge things for your brand loyalty and create many more raving fans. So what about a larger number of customers? How do you handle that feedback? I mean, it's a similar process with a few tweaks. As you get a substantial number, like I said, probably at least 10% of your total survey customers, start categorizing. I mean, 10% is a good number as statistically, you can take a 10% sample of a larger group, like 1000 and pull 100 of them and this will give you a pretty accurate representation of the larger group. It's funny how math works, but that's the deal. So write down the answers in general categories that you're going to have some outliers, but in general, you're going to see the trends. Now take the categories and the answers and evaluate them just like with a smaller number of clients. Take them one by one and evaluate. Is that true? If you don't think they're valid, you're either wrong or you haven't presented a solution to them in a way that they perceive as valuable.

And like before, the next step is obviously scheduled execution on the most important ideas first and then after you start to execute them, report back to your survey customers and thank them for their input and let them know you made changes. I mean, this is something we're actually experimenting within our company right now. We did a recent survey of clients and we're going to go back to reach out them and thank them for their participation and not just the ones that actually responded, but everyone even if they didn't respond. So my guess is this is going to be aware, but I'll let you know in a future episode how it went.

Okay. So hopefully at this point, you've got a handle on the consequences not soliciting feedback, the benefits, and some ideas on how to actually implement and take action. So takeaways from this episode, I mean, hopefully at this point, you've got a handle on the consequences of not soliciting feedback or being afraid to, and all the benefits that we can gain and grow companies with by doing it and then some practical ideas on how to actually implement and take action. I hope this is helpful and I'll talk to you soon. Thanks for listening today. I hope you've learned something that you can implement right away. I know your time is valuable and it's a brilliant honor to serve you. Please subscribe and rate the show on your favorite podcast platform and give me your honest feedback. Also, I put together a short eBook on some of the top lessons I've learned in 20 years owning a B2B business. You can download a free copy at