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CSI: Sales and Marketing

An Atlanta-based investigator uses real forensics techniques to assess business relationships and determine why some went ‘10 toes up’

Landing big, new contracts is cause for celebration at most companies.

The smart ones, however, get busy understanding the reasons behind their success instead of getting giddy over it, says Rick Reynolds.

Reynolds is the founder of AskForensics, an Atlanta-based firm that brings some of the actual techniques used in crime scene investigation into play to help business-to-business companies land new deals and retain the ones they already have. While his work isn’t likely to produce the next top-rated spinoff for the “CSI” TV shows, it has earned the devotion of decision makers at FORTUNE 500 companies.

“The biggest thing for me is the legitimacy of his data,” says Jeff Connor, Chief Growth Officer for the Global Food Facilities and Hospitality Services division of Aramark, the world’s No. 3 food services provider and a longtime AskForensics client. “I’ve never been happy with customer surveys. It’s not uncommon to have great customer surveys and still lose an account. There is a level of sophistication to Rick’s approach that I haven’t seen from anybody else.”

Reynolds divides AskForensics’ services into two categories: sales forensics, which dissects clients’ successful and unsuccessful attempts to get new business; and account forensics, which uses a similar process to gauge his clients’ relationships with their current customers with the sole purpose of exposing weak spots in those relationships and fixing them in time to retain the business.

His clients ink contracts worth an average of $25 million, and often have deals that are worth three or four times that amount. Because they lock in business for three years or more at a time, it’s understandable why each deal is important to win and even more vital to retain.

“We don’t have a focus on a given industry because I have found that selling is selling. But companies that use us tend to have strategic-level sales and high-level relationships,” Reynolds says.

Fighting Complacency

One risk of operating off of high-level relationships is that once they are established, sales reps often get comfortable that they will last forever as long as big blunders are avoided. Not so, as several AskForensics clients have discovered.

Reynolds recounts the case of a client who retained a large contract off the strength of the relationship between the sales rep and the client’s chief operating officer. His review of the successful contract renewal revealed that while the COO had been given purchasing authority, the client company’s president, who had final sign-off rights, had been looking for a reason to tell the supplier to “shove it up their ass” for a long time.

“That’s a direct quote,” says Reynolds, who had valuable face-to-face time with both the COO and the company president. “Think of that implication! It was a multimillion dollar piece of business that our client was feeling great about, yet the president at the customer company was very displeased. The supplier was walking on a minefield and would not have even known it had they not completed a sales forensics.”

The long-term outcome of that case was a stronger relationship between supplier and customer, in large part because the customer was impressed that the provider used a third party - AskForensics - to uncover problems even though they had just won a contract renewal.

“We get brownie points with the clients we win and lose because we use the objective third party,” says Aramark’s Connor. “There is a message there about a willingness to be judged in a performance-based relationship. In the business world today, it’s about your performance. It’s not about playing golf together and ‘I know you better.’ It’s about understanding how you perform and how you get measured — getting people to say, ‘Geez! You won and you still have some guy calling me to do an interview about why you won and wanting to understand that better. You guys are living up to what you promised!’”

Connor says his salespeople must work harder than ever to get to “yes.” Often, the customer expects them to gain a deep understanding of their needs on their own, which is when sales forensics pays off.

“It’s doing your homework, but doing it by ‘upskilling’ the sales reps and the leadership teams by asking the question, ‘What do we know about these folks and have we aligned everything we’re capable of to deliver?’”

The AskForensics process also uncovers deficiencies or service distractions on the client’s side, according to Kim Davis, Senior Vice President of Program Management at Adecco, the largest staffing and recruitment services provider in the world. Davis regularly uses the account forensics service to assess the strength of existing client relationships. The audit process often uncovers what he calls “scope creep,” which is the natural inclination for services that Adecco provides to expand beyond what was contracted for.

During the lifetime of a three- or four-year contract, clients frequently tweak the services that are being provided or request additional services. Adecco reps may agree to these changes as a means of adding value and keeping customer relationships strong. But altering a service contract in such piecemeal fashion can inadvertently damage the delivery of the original services the client signed on for without being glaringly obvious. In short, it can seriously damage the relationship.

“When you keep adding little services, they add up over time. They are concealed from me because I’m not managing all the way down to that kind of detail,” Davis says. “Now, I’m finding out that we’re doing a lot more than what the contract spelled out, but we’re not charging for it — and yet it may be causing me to add more staff against the solution. It doesn’t mean we won’t continue to do it, but there may be an additional cost to do it.”

For Davis, the forensics process is less about making sure that Adecco’s clients are completely happy and more about ensuring that the services contracted for are being delivered. “If there is noise, this determines what has caused it and what the options are to fix it.”

Davis says he likes to have an independent review of a contract sometime during the second year of service to find deficiencies on both sides. The first year is still the honeymoon period and he likes to initiate the process a year ahead of the renewal of a three-year contract.

“AskForensics makes a recommendation that is independent of any bias,” he explains. “If there are negative aspects against the client, they are more receptive to making changes when it’s discovered by an independent body.”

Davis says he’s only had one client push back against the process, and he’s confident that was because it was uncovering glitches on the client’s side of the equation — a client they no longer have. Nine out of 10 times, the client is impressed with Adecco’s proactive approach. In fact, the account forensics process convinced a large client that was using Adecco to place 3,200 employees per year to not put the business out to bid.

“I see it as a cost of doing business. It’s more costly for an account to go away or to be unhappy than it is to do an audit, gain alignment and retain that account,” he says.  

Can You Conduct Your Own Forensics Investigations?

The biggest competitor for AskForensics is companies trying to conduct similar client reviews internally. One problem with that is being too close to the situation to address it objectively.

“Having a fresh-eyes approach works for a reason,” says AskForensics founder Rick Reynolds. “Often, our clients want to send us background on a campaign and they’re surprised when we don’t want it. We want to be open-minded and have plenty of room to explore.”

The high-level executives who are interviewed in the forensics process have limited time. If you enter an interview with preconceived notions – that the problem was price, for example – you may spend too much time chasing after useless information and miss the elephant in the room, says Reynolds. If a company does tackle this sort of follow-up internally, he recommends using people that were not involved in the sales process.

What Do You Get and For How Much?

AskForensics spends a month to six weeks investigating each case and produces a report soon after the investigative interviews are completed. Each report contains recommendations for specific steps to take to fix any problems the process revealed.

AskForensics reviewed three different accounts for one client and discovered that two of them were vulnerable and one was damaged to the point where the customer was ready to leave. The three accounts totaled approximately $15 million in annual revenue.

“Our client was stumbling in core delivery issues,” AskForensics founder Rick Reynolds says.

He helped them put together a detailed spreadsheet that spelled out specific tasks at each level of service. Individuals were assigned and a timetable was created. Weekly meetings were set and an increased on-site presence by the service provider was deemed a priority.

The result: All three accounts were salvaged.