Your customers: Not just income

Written by Susanne Baillie-Ruder
Joanne Robinson

Pinnacle Search Group Inc.
Mississauga, Ont.

Xchange asks Canada’s top women entrepreneurs to share their most meaningful business lessons. Each issue brings you the advice that has helped shape the lives and companies of these winning businesswomen.

Joanne Robinson is president & CEO of Pinnacle Search Group Inc., a Mississauga, Ont.-based recruitment firm. Pinnacle’s specialty is recruiting in the call-centre, logistics, administration, finance and engineering fields. Founded in 2000, Pinnacle ranked 16th on the 2004 annual PROFIT HOT 50 list of Canada’s Emerging Growth Companies.

BEST ADVICE: “View your customers as more than just a source of income.”

Robinson didn’t know how valuable her clients could be until a mentor, who was also a customer, suggested she form an advisory board. In that piece of advice, Robinson discovered a new role for her clients. “I’d never really used them before as resources,” Robinson explains. To tap into the knowledge of people in the marketplace, Robinson targeted the people with whom she’d already formed relationships.

Today Robinson meets monthly with a group of six customers to discuss problems, issues, and swap counsel, often for mutual benefit. “So many different things have come from doing that: new solutions, new business avenues, charities, professional contacts, everything. It’s been really neat,” says Robinson. “They’ve got a ton of resources.”

You might think asking clients for help is a show of weakness. But seeking counsel from customers “strengthens your relationship because it shows goodwill, says Robinson. “It shows them that you’re passionate about your company and that you take things seriously. In my case as an employment agency, [it demonstrates that] I’m not just out there trying to throw just anyone at customers hoping they’ll hire someone.”

An additional benefit to Robinson’s sessions: a charitable-giving strategy. As a thank-you to clients, Pinnacle donates money and time to its customers’ favourite charities. “I feel that you have to give something back to them,” she says. “It’s a win-win for everybody.”

© 2004 Susanne Baillie-Ruder

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com