Generating Awesome Client Relationships
Generating new client relationships is a major part of building a business. It is the form of marketing with the greatest return. It also takes many forms including networking, cold calls, referrals, and invitations. It’s all about seeking out people that need your products or services and communicating why it’s best to do business with you. Of course there are several steps you need to take before you can make your value proposition. You have to first find the people aka your market, and get in a position that encourages them to listen to you. That could mean being in the same room with certain executives or being in the right advertising space online or another situation based on how your marketing works. This post covers the approach to gaining client relationships and maintaining them for the benefit of you and your clients.
Creating Mutual Benefits
The best relationships are mutually beneficial. Both parties should simultaneously enjoy and gain something from participating in a relationship. Especially in business, if a relationship is one-sided, it is bound to be a short one. In business clients are often the ones providing payment for the benefit of the products and services you offer. This is the nature of business transactions. So how can that transactional nature be enriched with long term thinking and added benefits?
There are many ways, and I think the most beneficial is both parties looking for ways to support each other. If both parties are supported and thriving, the transactions continue and the relationship stays mutually beneficial. This support can take many forms, and I think the most concrete ways of showing support include referrals and education. Referrals are any recommendations or connections made. For example, a client may refer a service provider to someone they know which gives the service provider more work and gives the client credibility. The more connections and referrals you have, the better.
A product or service provider can create education opportunities for their clients in a lot of ways. They can provide industry resources, training, and general guidance related to the product or project they are working on. The clients can also offer news and updates on their interests and changing needs that can help the product or service provider serve the client more effectively.
Especially for those selling products, there are some great, immediate strategies you can take to benefit your clients. You can provide discounts when a client orders a certain quantity or orders from you a certain amount of times. This provides savings to the client and gains you a longer lasting business relationship.
Working for clients can be demanding but is part of most any job these days. Most product and service providers have multiple clients at any given time. Having multiple clients offers you multiple opportunities to check in on how your company is doing in terms of serving your clients’ needs. Reviews can be informal and often show up on review sites, but they can also be a quick check in conversation with your client. You can check in with them at an appropriate time to ask generally how your company is doing. The answer may surprise you in a good or bad way, but their answer is always valid. Consider their feedback seriously and decide if you should adjust your approach to better suit their needs. This isn’t a time to be defensive or make excuses. No matter what the client tells you, thank them for their honest feedback. Let them know you will do everything in your power to improve and/or maintain the way you provide great products and services.
These informal check-ins allow your clients to give you an honest review and can help you avoid larger, future conflicts or misunderstandings. That’s why it is great to check in periodically throughout the duration of your business relationship, not just at the end of a transaction or project. You may find things out that you might not have otherwise. You may find out things like, your client prefers phone calls to email correspondence and has been annoyed with the amount of emails exchanged on a particular project. Or perhaps one of your employees went above and beyond for a client, and the client lets you know when you check in with them. Establishing open communication will build trust and candor between you and your clients, which sets you up for repeat business with them and future referrals.
Nurturing Relationships Over Time
Once you have worked with a client on a project or two, you have often spent enough time together that you are fairly close. This professional relationship is one that can be mutually beneficial, as we’ve discussed. You and your client have probably spent time together in meetings and problem solving sessions that influenced your project’s success. You have a general understanding of each other’s strengths, weaknesses, and preferences.
If your project is over, the professional relationship you have with a client does not have to end. There may be a natural end to constant communication at the project’s end. In any case, future communication may be less frequent, but it does not have to be of lower quality. Clients may appreciate you keeping in touch with them to check on the progress of your project after its completion. It’s also important to keep a bead on future projects your client may have on deck.
A friendly catch up conversation can help you stay up to date on future project opportunities and let your client know that you are still interested in working with them. It’s best to have other reasons to talk to clients, like common interests, kids, pets, community events, etc. You don’t want to give your client the idea that you only call them to ask for project opportunities. It is also generally understood that your professional relationship was built on a contract and subsequent financial transactions (i.e. the project you were hired to do).
You can keep up with your future and prospective clients on social media as well. Seeing their posts about hiring, growth, project status, upcoming initiatives, etc. keeps you up to date on their latest news. This arms you with conversation topics and lets the client know that you are invested in their success. Similarly, as you share social posts about your own growth and project success, your clients that follow you on social platforms can stay up to date with you. This helps keep you and your company name top of mind when your client needs someone that offers your products and services. A huge number of professionals, companies, and departments have LinkedIn accounts. This is a great place to share professional information and updates. Of course according to your respective industry, platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. might be more applicable as additional social platforms to use.
Networking and Community Involvement
As networking events and conferences happen throughout the year, choose ones that your clients would be interested in and benefit from. You can invite them when appropriate, but be sure not to flood a client’s inbox or cross any lines of professionalism. If you are in the same circles, you may bump into each other at these events. These are great places for good conversations and making introductions to other professionals in your circle.
Networking can be a scary word, especially to introverts like me. The potential benefits of networking can far outweigh anyone’s fear of icebreakers and small talk though. It took me a while to learn this, but it’s true. Networking can happen at networking events, industry related conferences, etc. Striking up a conversation in these business settings can lead to some great opportunities that would have passed you by otherwise. Having a recognizable face and brand is a major stepping stone to generating awesome client relationships. Your brand can be defined by your online marketing presence as well.
Being involved in industry related organizations, serving on boards, etc. also helps you gain credibility and recognition. These are great ways for those who are averse to networking to stay involved in a way that is structured vs. walking into a large room full of people for a speed networking session. You may also find that networking in small groups or one-on-one conversations is more manageable. Taking a potential client to lunch or coffee gives you an hour or so to get to know each other and find ways to do business together. Getting these introductions often comes from your business network, since it is harder to get someone to meet with you without a referral from someone they trust.
I have always promoted staying involved in your community. This is a great way to show genuine support for the place(s) in which you work. If you are attending local school events for your kids, community gatherings, religious and ceremonial events, and volunteering, you are building your network further than you could if you were solely focused on work functions. People in your community can get to know you as a human, not just someone identified by their profession.
All of these actions add to your credibility and make it more likely that someone will reach out to you when they are in need of what you offer or know someone who is.
Looking to the Future
Wherever and whenever you talk with your clients, be sure to discuss upcoming work they have that applies to you. Without being forceful or nosy, see if your client has the need and funding for work that you provide. Understand that your client contact may not have all the answers as far as timing, funding, etc. for a project. They also may not have the permission to tell you if the project is pending or confidential. So, do your best to stay updated on upcoming projects. Just know that your relationship with them does not require them to give you first dibs on any project.
If they do disclose information to you on future projects, find out if there are any barriers to this project being solicited. Perhaps the funding isn’t yet available or the scope hasn’t been defined. Can you make a referral or provide assistance that will speed up the time it takes to get this project out to bid? Approach this discussion with the intention of increasing the future project’s success, not an intention of increasing your chances of getting the project. Pay attention to your client’s procurement guidelines and do not violate them or get involved with favoritism or nepotism. Favoritism and nepotism have caused countless conflicts, job loss, and kept good, honest product and service providers from winning contracts. They’re a red flag that a client is not honest or worth pursuing in the long run.
With that being said, the search for new clients and the maintenance of existing ones is a fun, and at times, challenging journey. The concepts we discussed in this post will hopefully make the journey even more rewarding.