Pursuing an attractive new client prospect provides an incredible adrenaline rush. There is something addictive about ramping up your game, pulling out all the stops and winning the client. Yet, while you’re out there chasing fresh new blood, what’s happening to your existing client base? If you’re not romancing current clients with the same fervor, your relationships are slowly going stale.
Existing clients are almost always your best source of new business. That’s why it’s so crucial to devote a good portion of your sales and marketing time to growing these relationships. Of course, you must provide top-quality work; but, that’s not enough. You must get proactive about growing and nurturing client relationships that stand the test of time.
I created my new book, “It Starts With Clients: Your 100-Day Plan to Build Lifelong Relationships and Revenue,” and developed the 100-Day Client Growth Challenge that accompanies it, to help professionals build out a proven plan for conquering tough relationship challenges, grow their client base in both up and down markets, and transform their client relationships. These resources reflect 25 years’ worth of my unique research, including personal interviews with more than 8,000 top executives and highly successful rainmakers.
To realize the full potential of your existing client base, you must first understand why good relationships go bad. Here are a few issues that can weaken or corrupt a seemingly healthy relationship:
• Low energy. You no longer have the same energy and enthusiasm for the client that you used to, and you stop going the extra mile.
• Reactivity, not proactivity. You get used to the client giving you more business, and you stop being a proactive agenda setter who actively challenges the client, and brings new ideas and perspectives to them.
• Slowness to respond to industry events. One client of mine — before they became my client — had a major relationship with a large bank. On a Friday, some new federal regulations were approved that had significant implications for executive compensation and related personnel issues. On Monday, the bank’s SVP of Human Resources had a report on his desk assessing the impact of these new rules on the bank’s programs. But it wasn’t from my client; it was from a competitor who wanted to make inroads with this very attractive client. That afternoon my client’s CEO got a call from the SVP. His opening salvo was this: “I’m going to fire you.”
• Poor communications. You communicate less, leading to a perception of reduced value. Remember, insufficient communication leads to missed cues and a lack of understanding of what your client is expecting.
• Atavism. This is an evolutionary term that means “going back to a past condition.” In the sales process, you take a big-picture view with the prospective client. You deeply explore their agenda of key priorities. You discuss their aspirations. But, then, during the actual delivery of the work, you regress to being an “expert for hire.” You talk only about operational execution and project milestones — no more big-picture discussions!
• Lack of feedback. You stop caring what your client thinks about the relationship, and you stop asking for their feedback.
• Poor actual or perceived quality of work. Sometimes, even the best companies suffer a lapse in the quality of their products and services. But, equally, there can be a lapse in perceived quality. When communications are poor and expectations are not properly understood, your client can come to believe that a job that is actually objectively well done is not up to snuff.
Do any of these sound familiar? If so, there are some strategies you can put in place right now to revitalize your existing relationships:
1) Treat all old clients like new clients. You have to bring the same enthusiasm, new ideas, effort and excitement to the 100th meeting with your clients that you demonstrated in the first meeting when you were wooing them.
2) Ask yourself, ‘What would my competitors do to try to win this client’s business?’ In fact, your competitors are regularly trying to win a greater share of your client’s business. Think through what their strategies might be and examine which of those actions you should be taking yourself.
3) Be like the Beatles and evolve your songs. The Beatles built a global fan base and sold more than 1.4 billion records by constantly evolving their music. They retained existing fans and continually added new ones. Each successive record was a significant evolution in their music. You don’t want to sing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” year after year to your clients. You need to bring fresh points of view, insights and ideas to your long-standing clients on a regular basis.
4) Add talent to the team. This is especially pertinent if you work with a firm. Continuity of relationship managers is essential, but it’s also good to occasionally rotate some team members off of a client relationship and add new talent. This is good for your staff and also good for the client, because it can bring fresh thinking into the engagement.
5) Add value in new ways. Is there a well-known academic or industry expert whose ideas would be relevant to your client? Can you use collaboration technologies to better connect with your client? Can you do a better job helping your client on a personal level — for example, providing a sounding board about their career, expanding their network by making valuable introductions, and so on? Can you connect your client to other clients you have, enabling them to directly share best practices? Can you bring someone in who can help your client better understand the impact of certain trends? Are there long-term fee arrangements that would more closely align your interests as long-term partners?
6) Change the scenery and the way you interact. Perhaps, you always meet your client in the same office or conference room, and use the same format for presentations and memos. Organize an offsite meeting instead of spending all day in the client’s conference room; take your client out to dinner with several of your other interesting business contacts; instead of PowerPoint slides, use multimedia, printed placemats, or oversized sheets of paper that you tape to the walls of the conference room.
7) Do a relationship review with the client. This serves several objectives. It’s a chance to better understand their view of the relationship; to get a renewed sense of their emerging priorities and goals; and to add value by having a big-picture, agenda-setting conversation.
8) Make an unexpected investment in your clients. For example, clients are always interested in developing their people. What can you offer to help transfer skills and capabilities to your client’s organization? Is it a lunchtime seminar on a topic of current interest? A custom webpage or web portal you set up to help them access your most relevant content?
9) Get an objective party to review the relationship with you. Familiarity doesn’t have to breed neglect, but it can certainly engender myopia. Ask an experienced colleague, who is not involved in the relationship, to sit in on a planning and review session. They won’t be wedded to the same assumptions you are basing your thinking on and may offer a fresh perspective.
Complacency is the enemy of the successful rainmaker. Never lose sight of the need to constantly and consistently nurture your relationships with your clients. This takes time, tenacity, and ongoing hard work, but the ROI is that you’re likely to enjoy a steady stream of business. This is not to say you should neglect new prospects altogether. It’s just that you need to reserve your deepest reservoirs of energy and passion for the ones who brought you to the dance. | I&FMM |
Andrew Sobel is the author of the new book “It Starts With Clients: Your 100-Day Plan to Build Lifelong Relationships and Revenue” (www.andrewsobel.com/clientgrowth) and creator of the eLearning master classes “Building Your Clients For Life and Building Relationships That Matter.” He is the leading authority on the strategies and skills required to build clients for life. He is the most widely published author in the world on this topic, having written nine acclaimed, best-selling books on developing enduring professional relationships. His books have sold well over 250,000 copies and have been translated into 21 languages.