Maintaining a sense of urgency can be discussed in a number of different contexts. I’d like to discuss it in terms of relationship management, specifically as it relates to our business relationships. I’m guilty of often saying that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Taking a genuine interest in another person, especially a client, means that you need to go the extra mile, be a bit vulnerable and transparent and most of all, behave in a manner that communicates that they are a priority.
Relationships can be hard but they can also be rewarding. In business, managing relationships requires focus, creativity and patience. Perhaps the most important thing required, however, is maintaining a sense of urgency. By definition, something that is urgent means that it is at the forefront of our mind and that it requires immediate attention; it’s critical, mandates an action on our part and infers that if we don’t respond then something negative might occur.
While this sounds quite dramatic the truth is that in today’s business climate there are many people who are not very responsive or don’t seem to share the level of urgency that perhaps you or I might have in getting something done. In many ways, this is acceptable since not every relationship requires an urgent type of behavior on our part. However, let’s talk about what a sense of urgency means in our day-to-day professional lives in working with colleagues and customers.
A few years ago I ran an exercise with a large sales organization to understand what they defined as a sense of urgency when it came to customer relationships. The goal of the exercise was to produce a set of criteria that would eventually become our sales operating model. It wasn’t a best practice type of thing, since there isn’t only one answer. Rather, it was a set of working principles that we believed our customers would respond best to, but also ones that would allow us to measure how effective we were in being a trusted partner when it came to those relationships. We also wanted to learn, through feedback, whether other companies they worked with were providing the same level of urgency in the relationship.
As I mentioned, these were not intended to be best practices but they did prove to be effective and differentiate us. Here are some of the core practices we employed when we talked about having a sense of urgency:
- Return every client call or email within the same business day or communicate as to when you would provide a proper response
- Develop and follow a communications plan with our client that involved touchpoints on a frequent basis by a selected team of people within our organization, e.g. while the account manager spoke with the client weekly, the executive team had monthly and quarterly touchpoints
- Monitor news and thought leadership pieces that relate to your client’s business and areas of interest and send them this information at least once per month; this effort specifically demonstrated that we cared about their business and kept an eye out for stories or news that they would find interesting
- Invest in introducing people who could add value to the relationship; peers in our network, team members to share insights, invitations to gatherings or conferences
- Don’t be in selling mode all the time; while a bit unorthodox, stating the obvious typically isn’t well received. Showing an interest in people is something that many business professionals simply don’t do. Relationships take time to cultivate and in the words of one of my clients “many companies can deliver a good service but I want to work with someone I trust”
- Ensure that the client knows they have access to all the right people in our organization. A common problem is that some clients feel neglected by the same suppliers that worked so hard to win their business. Getting face time with the key execs and team members actually does make a difference.
In short, for every client, we had a “sense of urgency” type plan associated with them so that we could ensure we were communicating effectively and maintaining response levels that exceeded normal expectations. Was this hard? Yes, at times it was demanding but there is no substitute for showing up and setting a reasonable expectation that you are there when needed but also there consistently adding value to the relationship.
Another thing I say often is that many of us know what to do but doing what we know is where we get tripped up. Maybe Da Vinci said it better “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do”.