The Future of How Clients Buy

Eric Gregg ClearlyRated

It’s no secret that the B2B buyer has changed more in the past ten years than in the previous 100. The modern consumer is digitally driven, socially aware, and has all the information they need at their fingertips. So, how can B2B service providers keep up with this rapid evolution and meet the buyers of today where they’re at?

To help us find the answer to this question, we’re joined by Eric Gregg, Founder, and CEO of ClearlyRated, an online client satisfaction survey firm that works with B2B service providers to maximize the value of their client experience surveys. They achieve this through leveraging Net Promoter Scores (NPS) to improve retention, grow accounts, win new business, and maximize online reputation. Since its founding, ClearlyRated has sustained double-digit growth by actively partnering with firm leaders and managers to find answers to critical issues of client satisfaction and retention.

In this episode, Eric shares his expertise and provides a \overview of the evolution taking place in the client buying and decision-making process and the different ways that professional service firms can address these changes. He highlights the importance of being proactive, building deeper connections with clients, and making diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority, plus so much more!

Key Points From This Episode

  • An overview of what ClearlyRated does and why it matters to B2B service providers.
  • Why ratings and referrals are important for professional service firms.
  • Recent trends that reinforce the value of referrals, including information symmetry.
  • Insight into why risk aversion increases as the buying group size increases.
  • Evaluating the role that trust plays on an institutional, individual, and repetitional basis.
  • The impact that COVID-19 has had on the vetting process in the B2B space.
  • What Eric believes drives client satisfaction today, including proactivity.
  • The opportunities that professional service firms have to utilize data to add value.
  • Why relationship building and ‘soft skill’ development are crucial in this context.
  • Using what Eric calls the ‘two by one’ strategy to connect with clients on a deeper level.
  • The role that authenticity plays in building deeper connections.
  • How important diversity, equity, and inclusion are for buyers in the professional services environment today.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builder’s podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:22] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Branch Out. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today, I’m joined by Eric Gregg, Founder and CEO at ClearlyRated. Eric’s company enables business service firms to easily measure their NPS or net promoter score from their clients and talent to improve retention and drive client growth. Eric shares his view on the evolution taking place in the client buying and decision making process, and we discuss ways professional service firms can address these changes. I hope you all enjoy,

[00:00:41] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:01:00] AD: Eric, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. Excited to have you here today.

[00:01:04] EG: Thank you so much. Appreciate it, Alex. I love the podcast, and I’m thrilled to actually be part of it.

[00:01:09] AD: Well, this can be a fun conversation. Talking to the listeners for a minute, Eric and I have just spent the last 15 minutes or so chatting. Just a fun conversation, all over the map, tons of different directions. All that said, I’m really excited for the conversation today. I think we’ve got a lot of similar thoughts and views that we can bounce around here. I’m excited for our topic today but, leading into the start of the topic Eric, I want to just ask you, why don’t you share a little bit about you, yourself, what you do? Then, we’ll take the conversation from there.

[00:01:36] EG: Yeah, Alex. My entire career has been focused on professional service firms, employee satisfaction, client satisfaction. Our company, ClearlyRated, helps professional service firms measure, improve client satisfaction, employee satisfaction, in the traditional ways you think about it. Improving retention and improving engagement, identifying cross selling, upselling opportunities, but where we differ is we also really focus on amplifying the positive. We automate the capture of testimonials as a part of that employee recognition and shout outs so that you can really shine the light on the best service providers inside.

Then there’s a component of it on that is a marketplace and award component as well, where we bring those online in a similar way to a Google reviews or Glassdoor as a part of that as well. So, it becomes a part of that branded experience, given that credible third-party evidence of quality.

[00:02:29] AD: Okay. So I want to summarize that a little bit back in make sure I hear it right, but also say in a very simplified way; at the end of the day you really help our business-to-business type service providers capture the feedback from their clients, from their customers, and ultimately, share that with the marketplace in a rating style function. Is that an easy, simple summary?

[00:02:59] EG: Yeah, that’s exactly right. The way I tell people in shorthand is if SurveyMonkey, and Glassdoor and JD Power & Associates had a wonderful love child together, it would look a little bit like ClearlyRated.

[00:03:12] AD: Okay, so why do you it? What does it matter? What’s the value add? Why does someone care about that? If I’m a leader in a professional service firm listening right now, what does that matter to me?

[00:03:20] EG: Yeah. Really early in my career, I had the opportunity to work with David Maister, who has done a ton of work within professional services, former Harvard Business School professor and, and he wrote a book, called Practice What You Preach. The whole point of that book was in a professional service environment, actually measuring and drawing the link between employee engagement and financial performance. So, we did this big study, and it captured my attention at that time of just how important this was. Then, fast forward, I just kept coming back to do my career. So, when we started the company, ClearlyRated, that was really the focus area, because that’s what I knew.

I knew that, when you’re in a service environment, the thing that matters the most is your internal people and how they can deliver for your external people. Those are the two important stakeholders. If you’re tying in that employee satisfaction and that client satisfaction, those are the two critical areas. Then, we started to understand, Alex, that even the ones that are doing that and doing a great job of it, they don’t look any different to the market than the ones that are doing a crap job with it. Yet, they’re sitting on top of this gold mine, treasure trove of proof that they’re actually delivering on what they say they’re delivering on. That’s where we really started to push out the ratings component of it and the award component of it as well, is to help people get credit where credit’s due.

[00:04:39] AD: I love that story. I love that way of thinking around that. Help me to understand, and you and I’ve had this conversation, so I know where you’re going with this already. We’ve talked about, why would I need a rating? I’m a CPA firm for example. Why do I care about having a rating out there when people aren’t Googling me to find business necessarily, are they?

[00:05:00] EG: Yeah. Well, what’s interesting is, that’s an outdated view on it, right? When we look at how professional service firms grow, it’s often through a referral. But what’s interesting, if you look at the data, we do a study of buyers of professional services each year in the B2B setting. What we have found is that, steadily, over the last eight years that we’ve done that study, we’ve seen the impact of online ratings go up. Now, actually, they are utilized as often, or more often than referrals. In fact, if somebody gets a referral, two thirds of the time, they will go in Google search that firm to take a look at that. That’s only going to continue to increase, Alex as you look at that. Gen Y now is the largest generation in the workforce, they’re having more influence in decisions and making more decisions on their own.

By 2029, Gen Y and younger are going to represent about two thirds of the workforce as a part of it. That group, as we were talking about earlier, they’ve never made a decision on their own, which sounds disparaging, but it’s really not, right. What I mean to say by that is that they are the best decision makers, because they don’t just trust you, Alex, if you say, “Hey, this is a great firm to work with.” They take that information, and then they crowdsource all this other information to see if maybe you are the only one that loves working with that firm, or is the experience that you’ve had indicative of what most of their clients have as a part of that?

We see these as well, anybody that if you hire somebody, ask them where they got their information. Oftentimes they’ll list Glassdoor and again, why wouldn’t they? Why would I take a referral that says, “Hey, you should come work at our accounting firm. I love it here,” when you can actually take that referral, and then go and see, does everybody else love it there too, right? Or is that the only one?

[00:06:41] AD: What I find really interesting about that, and when you and I chatted about this, before, you brought up this idea that the younger generation, they’ve grown up having information at their fingertips, right? Is that demographic continues to grow into the decision making capacity, meaning that, if I’m a professional services firm, a B2B service offering where the buyer on the other side, the decision maker within your organization that is going to decide whether or not to use me as a service provider, is going to, more and more often, be used to this idea of looking up Googling, searching, finding information, right? The referral, this is my perspective, the referral isn’t dead, the referral is still an absolute relational ship.

It’s part of getting across and actually getting to that, converting into an actual businesses through that relationship element having social proof and trust. What you’re pointing out, I think, and I think is spot on, is if I’m searching and I either find nothing, but I find someone else that has a lot of good positive feedback, positive things, I might lean and take my conversation different direction, my decision making process. Or, if I find just negative, that’s certainly going to make me have nothing to do with it. Versus if I am promoting the positive, I’m out there, I’m proactive in that, what I’m doing is supporting in making that entire – I’ll call it the relationship, I guess, the pipeline. I hate using that word when we talk about service, but the pipeline, right? Taking someone from top of funnel all the way down to being a value-added customer.

[00:08:22] EG: Yeah. I think you’re exactly right. There’s a couple of other trends that I think are playing into that. The first of which is this concept around information symmetry. If you look at 20 years ago, the decision about utilizing which law firm, which accounting firm, which insurance agency to utilize, really suffered from information asymmetry, right? The accounting firm in this example had all the information and the buyer was trying to get at that information and that one source of information, oftentimes, was the accounting firm or the couple of accounting firms that they were considering. Fast forward to today, we have the ability now to actually get more information on our own. If you look at Gartner and Forrester, both have released data that suggests that people are about 80 percent of the way towards making a decision in a B2B environment before they ever engage with an individual at that company.

The internet makes a huge impact on that being able to even easier access to crowdsource a referral, right? Where I can now send out an email or post something on social media and get a half dozen recommendations right out of the gate. That’s just a different form of the old school referral that maybe would happen when I’m on the phone with a friend of mine as part of that. So that’s definitely happening. The other thing that’s a really important trend that people need to be aware of is that, when B2B buying is happening, it’s getting far more complex. That complexity is leading to larger buying groups. I think the latest data that I’ve seen on that was around eight people on average in a B2B buying group.

The study that we recently did showed up between five and seven, typically as a part of that. There’s some really interesting research that I think Corporate Executive Board did a few years back, that showed that, as the buying group size increases, the risk aversion also increases as well. When we look at this, what we’re seeing now is that it’s not just important to be considered the best fit for whatever the role is and the service that you’re providing. You also have to be perceived as the least risky option as a part of that. Then one last thing I want to say is this consumerization of B2B that also is happening here. If we think about how we buy things. Let’s say that I’m considering buying a new television set, and you say, “Hey, this Sony model that I have, I love. Take a look at that.”

Now, I can take that Sony model, I could reach out to Sony and say, “Hey, Sony, give me three other people that bought this.” They’re going to handpick three people that they know love their product or I can go and read 1,000 reviews and see if the responses of those people match what we’re seeing there as part of that. It’s just a fundamental shift in how we gather the information that we’ve always desired, which is: are people happy when they make a decision, that is the decision I’m about to make?

[00:11:13] AD: I’m going to go back, way back for a minute and say, this isn’t necessarily rating, but you talk about this, people are 80 percent of the way to a decision before they ever reach out and that has to do with there’s a massive amount of available information. I can go online, I can figure a lot of stuff out before I even start that conversation. Maybe speaking to any listeners that are with small to mid-size professional service firms, I often see an under-investment in web presence as a whole. That doesn’t mean having a massive content market strategy stream, be available everywhere, and everyone’s seeing your name. It means having a website that’s polished and looks presentable, having a good UX behind that, having something that when you search me, there’s some reviews out there, your Google business name comes up with your logo in it.

Things that just feel legitimizing, if you will, because I think that that buyer base, especially when you are ultimately buying. This ties in the second comment the complexity of a B2B buying process today, right? When you’re selling as a service provider, oftentimes, you’re selling either a commodity. You could look at it from that perspective, meaning that if I do it or if the other firm does it, we should get to about same place depending on what we’re doing, because I’m selling expertise. I’m selling an unknown. I’m selling an outcome that is not necessarily perfectly definable. It can be very intangible and hard to describe and communicate that. So, the challenge, as you said, if I’m in a buying group. Let’s just – we’ll play this out is a, I’m in a firm or in a company organization that needs an audit.

We’re getting an audit, we’ve taken out a bank loan that’s not requiring [inaudible 0:12:53], whatever it is that forces us. We’ve never had an audit before. I need to go find someone to help me get an audit done. Well, I can ask my network, I might get a couple referrals, but I’m going to go out, I’m going to search, I’m going to gather this information. Me, I may be the decision maker, but there’s eight other people, six other people that are sitting around that table, and we’re doing this and I may call the ball. It might not be necessarily a true consensus base, but I got to get the buy in of everyone. If I, me, I’m putting my name out there, and saying, “Hey, this is the right choice. This is what we’re going with.” I’m telling my CEO, or my board, or whoever it might be, “This is who I’m choosing for this,” and that backfires in my face; there’s your risk aversion, right?

Absolutely. I want to be risk averse to that. So, all of this comes down to, before I’m even having those dialogues, even looking, I have to have credibility and trust and having one introduction, one referral. It can be very helpful. That, oftentimes, can be what helps the business happen, but I have to validate that. I have to go out and see that it’s more than just the single person who told me that and that I know it to be that true, and I’m going to feel confident that the service is going to be delivered in a way that meets the expectations that I have.

[00:14:06] EG: Yeah. You’re absolutely right. I think that there’s something that I want to hit on there are a little bit, which is this concept around trust. As a society, we’re in a very interesting place with trust. On the one hand, we trust all of the major institutions in our lives way less than we ever have before, right? We don’t have to take this political, but half the country believes one thing, half the country believes something else. We trust the government less than we ever have, the media less than we ever have, the church less than we ever have. Gallup measures this every single year; it’s an all-time lows. Yet individual trust and reputation trust is actually at an all-time high.

When I think about, for a second, just have a ludicrous that would have been 20 years ago if I would have said, “Hey, I’m going to build a business and we’re just going to rent out rooms and people’s houses to complete strangers. We’re going to do that and these people are going to be willing to do that, because we’re going to have other complete strangers to them, say that this person is not a serial killer, and that they’re actually a good guest.” That’s the Airbnb model, right? Which has been a supreme –

[00:15:11] AD: I’m going to get in the car with someone that’s going to pick me up in the middle of the night coming home from a bar, and never even question if I’m getting the right car, right?

[00:15:21] EG: Yeah. I have a seven and a nine-year-old, where we’ve just started talking about stranger danger, and how you would never get into a car with a stranger. I’m having this conversation, as I’m on my phone with the express purpose of finding a stranger who will let me get into their car to take me somewhere that I need to go, right? So, it’s a really interesting time as it comes to trust and reputational trust. What we’re finding is that, societally, we trust other people like us.

We trust that if something has happened more often, right? We’ve done studies that show that you’re actually better off having a 4.3 star rating and 125 ratings out there or reviews than you are to have a 4.9 star rating and three ratings and reviews out there, right? Because again, we’re smart as consumers and we understand that, if somebody has been able to do something hundreds of times, or been able to have hundreds of people weigh in on that, that’s less risky to us than somebody that got a five-star review and there’s only three people that have actually purchased that product or that service.

[00:16:25] AD: Yeah. I think intuitively it makes sense, I think anyone listening would be able to step back and see that. This comes down to the decision-making process is changing, the availability of information has changed. I would argue, and I don’t know if you have any thoughts or data to back this up, but COVID has probably accelerated a lot of this in some ways, because our communication, our ability to reach mass numbers and have a wider reach and, in some ways, just our general use of technology has definitely skyrocketed in the last two and a half years here. I have to think that this trend is picking up steam at this point.

[00:16:59] EG: Yeah. We pulled forward. Where we were headed and would have been in five to seven years, we got there in two, and just accelerated through a lot of these cycles that were already happening as a part of that. We’re not going to go back on that, right? There are some fundamental things that have changed as we normalize around the Coronavirus and go from pandemic to endemic, but a number of these things are never going to go back. That’s one of them: our ability to source information and have information in our fingertips and our desire to be able to check all the boxes.

I mean, if you think about it now, would you really feel you’ve vetted a purchase, if you were going to make a purchase, going back to the television set. You’re going to make a purchase on an important television set. Would you really feel like you’ve done your research and you’ve vetted that if you hadn’t read a single review of other people that have bought that exact same product? Probably not. I think that that’s happening, and actually the data suggests that it is happening in the B2B setting now as well, where that is part of the vetting process is to – there’s the reference accounts that have been there forever, there’s the testimonials, there’s the interaction with the firm. All of that still matters. The bona fides, the content online, all that stuff still matters. But in addition to that, that really tells me as a potential buyer, that tells me what you can do. What I want to know is how likely are you to actually deliver on that consistently?

That’s where we see that a lot of what we’ve done as marketers in the professional service space has been around our capabilities. What people are asking for now is, okay, I’ve got it down to three people that could do it. Who’s most likely to actually do it?

[00:18:46] AD: Yeah. I completely agree with that. Let’s then look at the other side of that. What drives that? What drives client satisfaction?

[00:18:53] EG: Yeah. It’s a really good question. There’s a number of things that I think everybody wraps their head around. It’s its responsiveness, its quality, it’s the context, it’s the ability to resolve issues if they occur, meeting deadlines, the perceived value. All of those things that have really been there for decades. Those aren’t different now. How they manifest or how they get judged is maybe a little bit different as we look at that. Those aren’t really different.

One of the areas that comes up consistently as a pain point for clients and professional service firms is the lack of proactivity. The way that I explain that to people is that most accounting firms, most law firms, most recruiting agencies are really good at answering the question that their client has. They’re not really good at helping their clients see the question that they’re not asking but what they should be asking,

[00:19:45] AD: Why is that? Do you have any thoughts on what’s driving that?

[00:19:48] EG: I think there are a couple of things that are in play there. I actually think that there’s a humility for a lot of service providers. I know that’s certainly the case within the accounting space and really good recruiters where, a lot of times, they don’t realize just how much more they know about their subject matter that they’re experts in than the people across the table from them or on the other side of the Zoom call from them as a part of that. So, I think that they don’t necessarily feel like they should be sharing these things, because they either assume that that person already knows or they feel I’m not adding enough value with that.

Then, I think the other thing too, is that we don’t really reward that aspect of it. If you look at what we measure as the KPIs for professional service firms and the utilization rates and things like that. They don’t really favorably lean on taking a couple of hours one time a week to reach out proactively declines and say, “Hey, I had just seen this and I thought of you, this is something that if you’re not looking at you really should be.” I think that there’s a real opportunity there.

I also think professional service firms have an ability – they sit on top of more data, not just satisfaction related data, but they sit on top of more data than anybody else. My accounting firm works with dozens, if not hundreds of other software firms very similar to my size. I would kill to benchmark against some of those individuals, right? To be able to see, “Wait a second, how come our GNA expenses are way higher than everybody else? What are we doing? Hey, team, let’s dig into this. Other people are doing this way more efficiently than us. Let’s figure this out,” right? To be able to do that. So, I think there’s an opportunity to really broadly look at the ways that they can add value in that context and be a little more creative with that.

[00:21:36] AD: The proactivity, and just thinking in general about the cost of services, whether– again, legal and accounting are the easy ones, but recruiting falls in there. I’d say risk management, insurance, wealth advisory, banking, these are industries, these are professions, that if you are looking to help your clients, to help your clients solve challenges on the horizon. I think it makes a lot of sense, right? Your clients will enjoy that, it helps them. But what I’m really hearing from you is that that’s a key driver that’s emerging as what makes the difference. I see why in some ways, right? If I’m working with you, if you don’t meet the deadlines, I got to go somewhere else. If your quality of work isn’t meeting my expectations, I have to go somewhere else.

If I’m working with your people and we bump heads, and we don’t have a good interaction, I might go somewhere else. I might complain. It might just be painful. But yeah, I get that I get all of these things make sense. I think they’re very easy to compare apples to apples across firms or crossed experiences in some ways. Maybe not truly from a measurement standpoint but, if I’m a buyer, I know if I’ve had a good or a bad experience, right? The proactivity is outside of that a little bit, right? Because I don’t know what proactivity means. I know what it means if I feel like you’re not telling me anything.

I know, I might honestly not even know that I’m missing anything, though at the same time, but if you are coming to me, if you are helping me see new things, if you are looking out and helping me think forward and helping to lead and guide me through some of the decision points as an operator, a business operator, you as my advisor, that means a lot. That’s very easy to latch on to and to see and to remember which all comes down to maintaining that relationship longer term, finding reoccurring, continuing, ongoing work, but also finding new work of additional opportunities within that existing relationship. It also creates the referrals, the positive feedback, everything else that comes with that too. It sounds like the proactivity is really one of those very key elements there.

[00:23:46] EG: Yeah. One of the things that you said that I think is important is that you get a certain amount of credit for doing what you said you’re going to do in the time period or maybe quicker, as well, or what was expected there. You’re going to get graded on that. That score, let’s go for every grade school grading, right? It goes from zero to 100. You could get an A, B, C, D, E, or an F. What proactivity is, is it’s extra credit. It is your chance to go above 100 percent if everything else is going right. It’s also your chance to move from a C to a B minus if something went wrong and wasn’t perfect as a part of that. That’s I think the opportunity and the way that I like people thinking about that is that you’re not necessarily penalized if you’re not being proactive, but you are leaving a great deal opportunity on the table.

[00:24:40] AD: I think that makes a lot of sense. I proactivity firms should focus on that again. Everything else, the client service, the interaction, I don’t want to diminish or discount any of that. That’s a very critical element. But the one piece I want to ask if you have any more insight on it. What about the people interaction, right? Not my partner relationship, not whoever, but the people doing the work. How does that play in and influence it?

[00:25:08] EG: Yeah. It’s an area where professional service firms specifically often fall short, right. It’s not actually oftentimes that the individuals that are doing the work. It’s not necessarily their issue. It’s that the firms are not creating space. The partners are not creating space for those individuals to build their own relationships in there. That’s why, oftentimes, when you see well over half of people, if their partner or if the person that is the senior leader on their project leaves, then they will go with that individual. We don’t get the same brand affinity that we do in a lot of industries in professional services, because that relationship is so critically important.

In addition to that, and you know this better than I do. We’re not training people to build relationships, right? We’re training them to be technically capable. Ultimately, that’s such a huge disservice, because that means that the people that are naturally good at building those relationships naturally move in that way. They’ll accelerate into their careers and ultimately become partners and go on with that area. Somebody that maybe that doesn’t come as naturally to, we’re actually creating a disincentive for them, because they’re not getting practice on it. There’s only so far that you’re going to get on your technical capabilities without having the ability to build some of those relationships and engage on some of those softer skill aspects of it that get left behind, candidly.

[00:26:32] AD: I didn’t mean that to be a leading question, but it led pretty well. A chunk of the work that I do here and that we do here at Connection Builders is really around helping individuals that interaction, human interaction. Connecting is a word we hang on to a lot, but what I’ve learned in doing this and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, training, and working around it. So much of our interactions with other individuals and how we engage with the world around us has to do with our mindsets in the way we think, and the perspectives, the prisms that we carry, right?

In a role for a, let’s just say, a senior associate through a manager or associate a law firm through a junior partner type, where you’re not managing the relationship. You’re not necessarily that the lead on it, but you’re engaged, you’re part of it and you can be, oftentimes, it’s that individual that can either really help build that relationship longer and farther or can really erode some of that pretty fast, right? The challenge is that it is often a feeling of being overwhelmed, overworked, and so much of that has to do with incentive structure, things like that internally to firm, but oftentimes too, it is someone who has spent their entire time being relatively technical, and is very deep in there and there just needs to be some relatively small mindset shifts and different kinds of ways of looking at that.

Again, that’s a lot of what we help on and we help try to shift that prism, but at the end of the day, in proactivity and the reason I tie this all in. I think that the mindset of engaging and working with other people and building good customer client relationships is not much different than the mindset of proactivity, in the sense that I’m going to slow down what I’m doing, care about the other person, think about someone else’s best interest, and see what I can do to go out of my way to help them. Add some value that might not yield anything today. There’s no need to do it. They haven’t asked me to do it, but that’s just that’s who I am and what I like to do.

That’s proactivity, but it’s also relationship building 101, right? I think that ties in. I think those are very – I’m sure there’s some root causes underneath of that, and why those are the two areas that professional service firms oftentimes fall short in places.

[00:28:56] EG: Yeah. I think the other thing, too, that we actually found in our company is we’re pretty casual in our communication style. We also hire quite a few people that are fairly early in their career. I would find that this person has a fantastic personality. They would send out an email and I’d be CC’d on it. I’m like, “God, there’s nothing that connects me to that individual at all.” We started really pushing people to disavow them of a couple things that we teach in colleges, which the first one is that business communication is boring communication, right?

Business communication is all buttoned up and you don’t talk about anything that’s going on in your personal life or anything like that. It’s all about efficiency and getting your point across and that’s just not what people are looking for, right? People refer people that they like and they like people that they know, and they can’t know you if you don’t ever let them into your life. So, we started to ask people to do what we call the two by one, which is two sentences, once a week on your email that are just personal in basis. Hey, if it’s right now it’s Thursday, I might send out an email and say, “Hey, what do you have planned for this weekend? I hope it’s something fun. I’m actually headed to Central Oregon to spend some time with some high school friends of mine, so I’m sure I’ll have some great stories coming back.” Right?

That’s all true. It gives that person an opportunity to engage and to come back and talk about what they’re doing that weekend. Lo and behold, maybe we actually find a connecting point that is a shared passion or communication style or something like that. Where, now, we’re actually engaging beyond the work at hand and having a conversation like real humans. It’s a really nice reminder for people that, yeah, let somebody your – that doesn’t mean that I tried to figure out Alex like, “Okay, what’s Alex into?” I’m going to pretend that I care about hockey, which I don’t, because Alex is into hockey. So what’s happening in hockey? What are my two sentences that I can drop in there? It’s not that. It’s being authentic about what you care about, and being curious about what the other person actually cares about. If you just do that, you build up such stronger relationships.

[00:31:00] AD: In my experience, curiosity has is one of the best mindsets I can help myself embrace. When I really focus on that, I’m engaging with people and just asking questions to learn. I enjoy it. It tends to make conversations better. I learn a lot. It helps foster so much more, and a lot of that is you have to remind yourself that you’re not all that important. Me, I don’t need to talk about I, right? You have to just remind yourself and it’s just – I want to listen here. The authenticity side, that’s an interesting one. That’s where we’re going down a path when we talk about authenticity. Everyone says it’s very cliché.

I actually just did a presentation this morning. I was at our state CPA society and giving a presentation. I had one slide in there talking about being authentic. Everyone tells you to be authentic, just be authentic. Just show up, be your authentic self. What I’ve learned, and this is the sports and I’m going down this because you brought up sports. I had to learn that truly showing up and being authentic means so much more. Sports for me is one of my most challenging areas. I know nothing, like nothing. I grew up in a sports-less household, never played sports. I just don’t. It’s just not and it’s I have nothing against sports. I just don’t really understand sports. I’m a professional who networks a lot.

Do you know how many – do you know how often sports have been brought up? I’m just like, “Yeah, no, I didn’t watch that this weekend. No, I don’t, I have no clue.” I used to try to BS my way through it at times. Even there’s still times today, I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” I just don’t really know what else to say. But for me to try to fake it and try to act like I’m into it, just to like, “Oh, that’s how I’ll be cool.” It doesn’t get me anywhere versus, “I’m honestly not sports guy, that’s just not my thing, but tell me more. Sounds like you’re a big fan. Why are you big fan? What drew you to that,” right? All of a sudden you can take that and build a conversation while really just being yourself, right? that’s a that’s a way of thinking.

[00:32:49] EG: Yeah. I was literally in a conversation the other day with a gentleman who had grown up in Chicago, was a sports fan, had been a big sports fan, but he was now an Indianapolis Pacers fan. I asked, “What caused you to change?” Because he grew up with the Bulls. You wouldn’t have maybe experienced this, but sports fans would recognize it. I’m sure you’ve heard this, right, that the Michael Jordan Bulls were a dynasty, right? So, he grew up with the dynasty Bulls, in his formidable times. They didn’t give you many reasons to not be a fan during that era and yet he became a Pacers fan.

It was because, at that time, the Pacers, you could go to the game for almost free, because nobody wanted to go to a pacers game. He and his daughter, that was their thing that they would do together. They had season tickets, and they would go to all the games together, him and his daughter. So, he loves the Pacers, because of that memory, not necessarily because the team’s any good or anything along those lines. There’s always a story that’s interesting somewhere in somebody’s passion, even if you don’t share that passion. That’s what you have to tap into.

[00:33:54] AD: I’ll tie this all back whether we talked about the relationship that individuals have with the clients or the proactivity, that mindset behind that. All of that is really about looking at the other person and thinking about the other person, not thinking about me and what I have to do and what I have going on. “You know what, that’s really interesting. Tell me a little more,” is, I believe, not a wildly different mindset than, “You didn’t ask for this, but I found this.” It’s that. A little bit of a servant type thinking, just looking out for and thinking about the other person and wanting to get to know them, wanting to help them. It’s wild how that goes.

Now, we talked about this already. I want to wind our conversation and end with this topic. DEI, diversity, it’s very important initiative. I’ve done a series of podcasts on it. We’ve talked about it. I think there’s a very good dialogue going across the industry, maybe not perfect, and there’s still room for improvement. But we’ve got some momentum attraction. How does diversity fit and all this? I know this is something you’re passionate about.

[00:34:54] EG: Yeah. Yeah. We’ve done a lot of research around this within the professional service environment. You’re right, the conversations are choppy out there. There’s a lot of people that are really leaning into doing great work. There’s a lot of people that are still ignoring the conversation. They’re doing so at their own peril on a number of different levels. First of which, we should all care about this, right? I think one of the most important things regardless of where you sit, and we’re both white males of a certain age that they have benefited from the privilege that that affords us. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t worked hard, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t overcome obstacles. All of those things are true, but we’ve also had the benefit of privilege as a part of that.

When we look at this, we should all strive for an equitable environment, right? Diversity, all the research has been done around the diversity of teams, but in addition to that, what we’re also seeing now is that clients are asking about this in a way that they’ve never done before. We’re getting reports back. We just did a study within the accounting space that I know you’re familiar with, where we asked marketers, if clients were asking them about the diversity of their firms and about 80 percent of them said that that was happening as a part of the RFPs that they were getting, as part of the conversations that they’re asking. People want to see that they’re doing the work, not necessarily that they’re perfect. Nobody is, but that they’re doing the work and that they care about this, and that they’re trying to make progress.

In addition to that, guess who else cares dramatically about diversity, equity, and inclusion, regardless of how they identify? It’s Gen Y and younger. Not only are they better decision makers than the Gen Xers like myself and those that are older, but they also view an employment opportunity through a much wider lens than, historically, we have. Where it might have been compensation and benefits and opportunities for advancement, it might have been how I would view a job when I was in my 20s.

They view it through that, through flexibility, through opportunities like remote work, through the impact that the work is having on the community at large. Through where they stand on social issues, through they progress that they have made and that they’re making around diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s just a really much more robust set of criteria that people are judging the quality of an employment opportunity now. It’s actually an exciting time, I really think that there’s finally an opportunity to have more consistency in that work.

There’s typically a big news event and big media event that makes everybody really recognize the issues that the United States has around some of these issues and, for a couple months, it’s up here in the conversation, then it falls off. This feels different this time, this feels like they were having some sustained progress. We’re having some really meaningful, impactful change happening

[00:37:48] AD: Well in, where I think that really drives back to. If I’m a leader in an organization, a professional services organization, and one of my focuses is going to be revenue and growth and customers of the firm, right? I care about growing my business, or even if I’m mid-level or smaller partner with an organization, if I have some revenue generating responsibility, and I care about that, which I think many professionals do. The themes that we’re hearing is diversity matters to a buyer. If I want to be able to staff a team that’s going to be able to deliver on the service and meet all the ratings, the quality, everything we talked about before, then it matters that I have diversity in my team to attract the right talent. It matters, because – and I 100 percent agree, it matters for the right reason. It’s just the right thing to do.

This really matters now from both generating opportunities, attracting clients to service, all that, and what I’ll argue, and I’m a little biased in this, because it’s a lot of the training soft skill development stuff that we do, at the end of the day, so much of this about empathy and gaining perspectives of others, building those relationships. There’s a lot to that and when you invest in people and help them develop those capacities, individuals and help them be the best versions of themselves, which is what supports a diverse culture, which makes sure that inclusivity and that starts that to actually happen in an organization. That also fosters all of these other benefits the culture, the way you interact with clients. That’s all about helping people develop that core foundational skill set.

Everyone has to invest in it, constantly, forever. There’s no endpoint, no one has it all figured out. If you’re not constantly investing in trying to develop that, I think you’re missing opportunities.

[00:39:40] EG: Yeah. That’s exactly right. I think that, as we move forward, one of the things on our internal employee satisfaction surveys. We measure, it’s an engagement survey, but we benchmark and measure that engagement across gender, across race ethnicity, across how people identify, LGBTQIA+ or not, physically handicapped or not. All of these different areas that people can show up matter. If they’re having a very different experience at your firm than those that show up as white males or as white females, then that’s a problem. That’s something that we have to shine a light on

[00:40:19] AD: 100 percent. At the end of the day, what I think when summarizing a lot of what we talked about, this is really about a different way in how the decision-making process is going to happen. The buying decision process in selecting a service provider going forward. This evolution has been happening. It is accelerating. Underneath all of this is really about investing in people, creating and helping people, and ensuring that you’re building the right culture around it, and developing people to create that winning successful culture under it, right? In every aspect of that. There’s a lot of shift happening, but it’s about making that investment.

Then, there’s leveraging and making sure that the world knows about getting it in front of them, having the right presence. Those things and making sure you’re checking in, being proactive, those types of things all support that. This really comes down to, I think there’s a change happening as the younger generation does become that decision maker. There’s a lot more they care about at this point and every element in very good ways. It’s what happens when you have a radically more aware generation based on the availability of information.

[00:41:28] EG: That’s a really good way to say that, right? Radically more aware based on the availability of information. You just can’t hide behind a bad experience now, either internally or with your clients. It’s just going to catch you.

[00:41:41] AD: 100 percent. Eric, I enjoyed this conversation. This was great. I think we got through some really good understanding the evolution there. I appreciate you coming on here and sharing some thoughts.

[00:41:51] EG: Yeah, absolutely, Alex. Thank you so much for having me. Felt like we could talk for two hours today. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

[00:41:58] AD: For our listeners, where can they get in touch with you? Where can they learn a little bit more about ClearlyRated?

[00:42:02] EG: Yeah. So is the starting point. It’s a great place to find some of the top service providers, also some of the service providers that are actually providing great internal employee experiences as well. Then hit us up on all the socials; LinkedIn, Twitter. Where there’s content to be had, we’re usually trying to lead with content and research around these important topics.

[00:42:22] AD: Love it. Well, thank you again. Thank you so much for being out here today.

[00:42:24] EG: Yeah. Thanks so much, Alex.


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