You must give the client what they need, within the context of what they want.
“You have such great clients,” Dave said. “They have been with you for years and years. Not only are they a stable source of work, but you’ve accomplished great things together. You’ve set new standards in your profession. My clients seem to never stay with me very long. How do you keep your clients with you so long, and how did you build the great relationship you have with them? I’m obviously doing something wrong.”
Dave asked me some good questions. I knew he was frustrated when he asked to meet with me. But after hearing his questions, I was also gratified to hear his observations of my client relationships — something I’ve worked on very diligently. I was happy to share with him some of the things I have done to develop and keep my clients, and I share them now with you.
An important point to note is that I have a consulting business. My tips will work for most any business model, but you must consider the specific applicability of these tips to your business. Some may not apply as readily, but the principles should still apply. Also, the assumption I am making is that the client(s) in question are worth keeping — don’t waste effort on bad clients.
To Keep Your Best Clients Consider These Tips
Tip 1. Consider The Client’s Perspective. The first thing I do is to try to put myself in the client’s shoes and consider what would be the most useful thing I could do as their service provider. I don’t do this once, but regularly throughout the year. What would benefit and impress the client — again and again? What is most important to the client — short and long-term? How can I become irreplaceable? When the client is facing budget cuts, how can I ensure that I am their top priority and clear the budget-cut red line? You must give the client what they need, within the context of what they want.
Tip 2. Become A Trusted Advisor. After reading the book, The Trusted Advisor (Maister, Green & Galford), I developed my concept of what a trusted advisor should be, and it’s this; when asked a question by a client, you tell them the truth regardless of what it might mean to your business. Getting your client to view you as a trusted advisor is not easy and usually takes years. They have to observe you saying and doing things in their interests — putting their interests before your interests. But, if you can indeed become a trusted advisor in your client’s mind, this is one of the biggest keys to creating and keeping a long-term, healthy, and mutually beneficial client relationship. Your patient and selfless attitude will be rewarded.
Tip 3. Make Many Personal Touches. In this information age where there are various ways to connect with clients and customers, the personal face-to-face conversation is more important than ever. Whatever you do, make time to sit down with your clients over a meal, a cup of coffee, or at their place of work. There is no substitute. Technology still cannot replace real conversations with real people. Going one step further, the hand-written note is cherished now more than ever. Take time to send a hand-written note to your client, thanking them for a recent meeting or their business. The personal touch will set you apart from your competitors. Do it often.
Tip 4. Create And Maintain The “Trusted Advisor” Employee Culture. Take the trusted advisor concept and instill it into your employees, especially those who interact personally with your clients. I require each of my new employees to read The Trusted Advisor, and I discuss it with them. I want them to hear me say, “If the client asks you a question and the right answer for them is going to cost us business, give them the right answer, regardless.” When your employees know you’re committed to this idea, they will be, too. If you’re the only one saying and being a trusted advisor, it won’t work. Everyone has to be a disciple.
Tip 5. Stay Humble, Stay Hungry. Last but not least, do not take your client for granted — ever. Presumptuousness will kill you. Never stop learning, growing, or asking yourself the hard questions about delivery of your services or products. Let the client see you improving, training your employees for the benefit of the client, adopting new and best practices, innovating, adding value — day in and day out. Treat the relationship like you’re still trying to win their business and their trust. Your client will see this, appreciate it, and value you more than ever.
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