So much time and effort is put into acquiring clients, yet very few businesses spend the same energy nurturing existing relationships. This is unfortunate, since a current customer is much more profitable than a new one.
Relationships: The Heart of Business
We, as a business community, often try to make success too complicated. Many of us think client relationships are about CRM systems and marketing campaigns. We focus on all of these little fragmented components while ignoring the one thing that matters.
“The key to business success is winning and keeping customers,” entrepreneur Steve Tobak definitively says. “And the key to winning and keeping customers is, and has always been, relationships. The world’s greatest business experts — Peter Drucker, Mark McCormack, Regis McKenna and others — have all said the same thing in one way or another.”
Sadly, entrepreneurs and business owners like to spend all of their time and energy on things like social media, productivity hacks, advertising techniques, etc. These can all be helpful little elements, but their value begins to pale when you look at them within the context of the bigger picture.
“No matter what you do for a living or aspire to become, none of those fads du jour will have a material impact on how things turn out for you or your business,” says Tobak. “But building real relationships with real people in the real world will.”
Client Relationship Management Strategies
Saying relationships are the heart of business success and actually prioritizing relationships are two totally different things. The latter takes a lot of hard work over a lengthy period of time, but there’s no better time to start than now. Here are seven client relationship management strategies to consider.
1. Respect the Client’s Time
Time is the most precious and finite resource you and your clients have. If you want to build healthier relationships, you have to respect their time. Here are a couple of ideas to help you do that:
- Don’t just tell a client to drop by if they want to meet with you. You’ll inevitably be in the middle of something and have to make them wait. Open yourself up to clients and allow them to schedule appointments with you. There are free tools that can automate appointment scheduling.
- Small talk is definitely part of building relationships, but recognize when it’s time to talk shop. Don’t waste a client’s time. Get straight to business and you’ll be seen as respectful and self-aware.
This might seem like a really small thing, but it sets the tone for the rest of the relationship. When you extend respect, you’re telling your client that they matter to you — it doesn’t get much better than that.
2. Get Face to Face
“When things go wrong and the client knows, call. Email does not always translate circumstances or feelings well as there is no voice inflection and a client usually places more value on a phone call,” entrepreneur Marshall Zierkel suggests.
While Zierkel is right — a phone call is better than an email — there’s something that’s even better than a phone call: meeting in person. If at all possible, you should get face to face with clients — when things go right, wrong, or are otherwise indifferent. The more you’re able to be face to face with a client, the stronger your bond will grow.
3. UNDER Promise and OVER Deliver
It’s a cliché saying, but it can’t be stressed enough: under promise and over deliver. If you make this a habit, you’ll rarely put yourself in a situation where you’ll let a client down. Instead, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of looking good — even when you barely exceed your own expectations.
4. Don’t Burn Bridges With Pettiness
How many times do you let small, petty things cost you a relationship with a client? Entrepreneur Craig Valine is one of the first to admit how dumb he used to be in this area. As he explains, there was a time where “I wouldn’t return phone calls; I wouldn’t follow-up with a referral from a client; I’d miss an appointment and not call to apologize; I wouldn’t pay my vendors on time; I’d squabble over a few dollars; or I’d act apathetic from a good deed from another.”
How many times have you let something small and petty cost you a relationship with a client? If you’re honest, burning a bridge rarely turns out to be a positive thing when you look back on a situation. Try to understand this and be willing to lose the battle in order to win the war.
5. Set Mutual Goals
Do you ever feel like you and your client are on totally different pages? Well, it’s probably because you are. You have your objectives and your client has his. The solution to this common issue is to set mutual goals from the very beginning.
As soon as you start a new project with a client, sit down together — face to face, if possible — and come up with mutual goals. This puts you both on the same page and gives you something to point to later on when challenges arise.
6. Build Credibility Over Time
It takes time to build credibility, so stop trying to make it happen overnight. So what if a client doesn’t fully trust you the first or second time you meet? You haven’t done anything to make him trust you!
Remember that trust takes years to build and can be destroyed in a matter of minutes. Be consistent and methodical in how you deal with your clients. Focus on slowly building credibility with each and every thing you do and say. With this sort of conscious precision, you’ll eventually wake up and realize that you have healthy client relationships that are defined by trust.
7. Be Transparent and Human
Stop trying to be such a polished version of yourself in front of customers. In an effort to clean yourself up, you’re actually cheapening your image and transforming yourself into someone you aren’t. They don’t want some ideal image of you. They want the real deal.
Mistakes are going to happen and it’s much better to be open about them. This proves that you’re human and, while they may be frustrated at the moment, it ultimately puts them at ease.
How Are Your Relationships?
How would you grade your client relationships on a scale of 1 to 10 right now? If you’re like most, you’d probably struggle to honestly reach a 5 or 6. You might even fall closer to the 1 end of the spectrum, which is — unfortunately — totally normal these days.
In an effort to push your business to the next level, you have to start prioritizing client relationships over things that really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s hard work, but the payoff can be tremendous.
Meeting Client Photo via Shutterstock
Editor’s note: Revised to correct transposition of words