As part of an ongoing series, I will be discussing how differing perspectives can create opportunities and challenges in driving success in customer representations, communications efforts, messaging approaches, and marketing strategies. This segment on Perspectives focuses on measurement and some pitfalls that may occur if shifting expectations are not carefully monitored.

On Measuring Success

The ability to judge success continues to be one of the great challenges of a consultancy. It is our ultimate goal when starting a new client representation that both parties are successful and drive mutual benefits. This success is critical because in the competitive marketplace of communication firms, it is our results that differentiate us and helps us retain clients. To engender loyalty and ensure success, our team works hard to exceed the expectations established at the outset of a relationship, while meeting the defined success criteria of the client.

In a typical representation, there is an initial agreement as to what constitutes a successful project completion or success on an ongoing basis, typically outlined in a scope of work. At RH, we use a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs) to track our results against the expectations of our clients. These KPIs are customized based on each client’s need, the scope, the representation, and the achievability of the goals. Often, at the end of the formulation process, we have an explicit agreement by all interested parties as to how to measure success.

From there, only two paths seem to follow:

  1. Delivery on the objectives and agreement that value is being delivered through the client-consultant partnership.
  2. Delivery on the objectives, but feeling there is a disconnect between what was asked for and what was understood and delivered.

It is here that the challenges of perspective lie. This type of divergence is neither uncommon, nor the result of malice or manipulation by either party. Often it stems from a lack of unity of understanding as to whether the KPIs cover all performance expectations, or if they only meet explicitly stated goals.

A few causes of divergence:

  • Dynamic demands: All companies have changing landscapes, strategies, and priorities. Often a disconnect in defining success comes when a client-company changes priorities without the consultancy’s knowledge or recognition.
  • Implicit vs. explicit expectations: This is the most insidious divergence that happens and the number one reason I see representations falter. Whether it is because demands of the client organization changed since the goals were created or a C-suite executive is pressuring the efforts, understanding the origin of the disconnect and adjusting efforts to include the implicit expectations is critical to long-term success.
  • Lack of trust: This is when the client believes the consultant is gaming the measurement system and delivering results below expectations.
  • Unidentified stakeholder:
    • This is when a stakeholder in the client company that was not bought into the partnership seemingly undermines it OR
    • When a stakeholder that did not participate in KPI setting has differing definitions of success.

Re-aligning for Success

Having a well thought out strategy with measurable objectives is fundamental to delivering value and ensuring long-term success with any communications campaign. The challenge is confirming that you can operate against goals, while having confidence that those goals remain relevant.  At RH Strategic, our approach to assuring alignment is through formal and informal conversations on the topic.

  1. Informal: Despite the proliferation of communication technologies (e.g. videoconferencing, instant messaging, video chats, teleconferences), there is still no substitute for a face-to-face meeting. Whether it is at a conference, over coffee, or at the client’s office, the ability to have informal water cooler discussions is invaluable in understanding whether there is a disconnect on the results being pursued and delivered.
  2. Formal: All of our long-term representations include a series of meetings dedicated to strategic planning and ensuring that the team’s objectives match the client’s objectives. These meetings occur in varying depths on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. In terms of refocusing our efforts on changing client goals, these meetings provide timely feedback, without creating turbulence in the account and communication efforts.

Overall, when measuring success in all client representations, it is paramount to listen to your clients. Have a keen ear to the tone of their response and language used. Ask them why they gave a tepid response to a (seemingly) solid result. Extract yourself from the day-to-day to see success through the client’s eyes and you will lay the foundation for long and successful partnerships.