Use these five strategies to maximize client relationships without leaving your desk.
Building a successful client relationship is just like building any relationship. It takes work. It’s really no different than building relationships with your spouse, significant other, children, or best friend. Healthy, productive relationships require attention and intentional behavior.
It’s a common misconception that you can only build client relationships on the golf course or at a bar. Not true. In fact, there are a number of actions you can take to build successful relationships and never leave your desk. Industry statistics place the cost to win a new client at around five times more than what it does to keep an existing one. While developing new business is certainly critical, keeping the business – and clients – you have is equally (and arguably more) important. By employing these five strategies, you can build a culture where every member of your team – from your full-time business developers to project managers to administrative staff – contributes to client relationships and, ultimately, building your business.
- Listen. Active listening is the most important thing you can do to connect with a client (or your co-worker, or your spouse). Train yourself – and your team members – to remove distractions, engage, and truly listen to your client every single time you have an interaction. And if you can’t, call them back. Don’t risk missing important details from a conversation, or even subtle nuances your client may impart, because you aren’t focused on what they’re saying. Active listening gives you information to confirm what you are doing right and also what might need fixing. And, who doesn’t want to be heard? Listen to what your client is telling you and repeat back to them what you heard. This practice (of parroting) will ensure your client knows you’ve heard them and proves you are listening.
- Check in for no reason. Seriously. Call your clients just to check in. You certainly want to be respectful of their time, so make the call short. But, a friendly call to say “Hi” and ask how they are doing isn’t going to be offensive. Surprise and delight your client by calling with no agenda or motive, but as a friendly and sincere gesture.
- Gather intel. In the process of interacting with your clients, ask questions. Take a few extra minutes to learn more about their needs and pain points. Ask if they have any future projects that would be an excellent fit for your firm. Share the intel with your market leaders and marketers to help position your firm in the future.
- Send notecards. We receive 30,000 commercial messages a day. Stand out by sending your client a notecard. Make it simple: “I appreciate you as a client” or “Thank you for your business” or “It was so great to meet you”. We are all pleasantly surprised when we go to our mailbox, and there is something other than junk. Your hand-written card might just brighten your client’s day.
- Use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is an excellent resource for getting to know your clients and finding common interests. Connect with and follow your clients. And then share and comment (when appropriate) on their postings.
- Say their name. People love the sound of their name. Dale Carnegie famously said, “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Use your client’s name as an important way to create a connection.
- Send items/intel of value. Work to know your clients. And when you do, take time to send them things or information that they can use, like a restaurant recommendation if they’re a foodie, a travel tip for their upcoming vacation, a business journal clipping mentioning them or their project, a bit on intelligence in the marketplace, or even a recent article you read about the importance of client relationships. Clients like, and hire, firms who know and stay connected with them.
- Guide your clients through your services. Consistently offer to proactively talk through your project process or when you send any deliverable or report. Provide a forum for interaction and questions. This practice will improve your client’s experience and provide you a wealth of knowledge to understand and meet their needs. And, if they decline your offer, you’ve still demonstrated your willingness to connect.
- Debrief. Whether you win or lose a project, debrief every time. Ask for direct, honest feedback when not selected for a project and be clear you’ll use this information to better position your firm in the future. And when you win, it’s even more important to know why you were selected and what differentiated you from the competition (so you can repeat that in the future).
- Be client-centric. Engage. Ask questions. Know your clients personal and professional goals. Treat them as you would a friend and in all things be genuine. Strong client relationships lead to more work and a better working relationship.
- Always respond. Clients want to be heard. They want to feel important. To ensure you’re doing this, be responsive every time. Even if you don’t have an answer, respond that you’ll get back to your client ASAP with a solution.
- Don’t take your clients for granted. We tend to take our closest relationships for granted. Do you assume your best clients will keep hiring you? I promise you, there is a long line of competitors who are working to take your client away from you and are likely showering them with attention. If you’re not tending the relationship, at some point your client may give your competition a shot.
- Show your passion. We all like to work with people who are passionate about what they do. Your clients are no different. They want to know the person they’re entrusting with their project is just as excited about a successful outcome as they are.
- Seek client feedback. Don’t wait until the project is over to seek input. Ask if you and your team are meeting your client’s needs and how you can improve throughout the life of a project. Develop a process for client feedback and put it to work.
- Educate yourself. Understand your firm’s history, mission, vision, values, and strategic goals so you can speak to clients about your firm with confidence. Understand your clients so you can understand their needs and frustrations. Know your markets so you can have informed conversations with your clients. Share what you learn with your colleagues, leaders, and marketing team to position your firm to win.
- Educate your clients. You learn something every time you complete a project. Share that knowledge with your clients. Position yourself as an expert to build trust and confidence.
- Make client relationship building (business development) a priority. Bookend your day by scheduling five minutes of business development activity before you start your day, before you check your email, and before you leave the office. Use Outlook as a tool to help you remember to follow through and employ the many strategies above.
Remember, the most successful client relationships are intentional and require persistence, time, and effort to be effective. If you want to maximize your return, employ everyone in your firm and teach them to focus on client relationships. At Zweig Group, we believe business development is everyone’s business. It can be at your firm, too!
Zweig Group is proud to offer In-House Doer-Seller training that will help you ELEVATE your doer-sellers. Click here to learn more.
Jen Newman, CPSM, managing director at Zweig Group, utilizes her more than 20 years of AEC specific experience to help firms grow their people and profits while ELEVATING THE INDUSTRY. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Doug Parker, FSMPS, CPSM, brings a unique combination of operations and marketing experience specializing in professional services firm management to his role as managing principal and CMO at Zweig Group. He has developed award-winning brand strategies to position firms and key stakeholders to gain market share and increase revenue. Contact him at email@example.com.