15 Ways to Grow Your Client Relationships Next Year

By Andrew Sobel

In 2016, all companies need to grow. They will pin their hopes on a variety of strategies for growth: acquisitions, new product or service development, penetrating new markets, and so on. But by December of next year, many won’t meet their goals. You don’t need to be one of them. This article shares a set of 15 proven strategies to make sure you grow your client relationships, regardless of market conditions or what your competitors do.

In your search for growth, don’t forget that your best growth opportunities are right in front of you: Your current–and past–satisfied clients. They know you and love you already. They trust you. You can get a meeting with them. You know a lot about their issues.

I have found that the provider—you—can influence or control 70-80% of the factors that determine whether or not a relationship grows or shrinks. So here are 15 strategies, which you can influence, to grow almost any client relationship next year.

1. Pick the right clients to grow. Not all clients present an equal opportunity for you. Which of yours have the highest potential for expansion? Some factors to consider include:
• Does the client value outside vendors/service providers and build trusted relationships with them?
• Does the client face strong competitive and environmental challenges?
• Is leadership ambitious and do they have high aspirations for the business?
• Are they action-oriented? Or do they just like to plan?
• Is there a crisis that you can help them overcome?
• Do you have or could you build a relationship with a senior executive sponsor?
• Do you have a prior reputation for doing good work in the client’s organization?

Support all your clients, but save your “powder”—your special investments—for those relationships with the highest potential.

2. Deepen your relationship with a key buyer. It’s hard to grow a relationship without a relationship with a key buyer—an important executive sponsor. Do you have one? How’s the quality of that relationship? What is your plan to systematically deepen it further over the next several quarters?

3. Find a new buyer. Most large corporations have multiple, major economic buying units—some global ones have 50 or more. Who else in the organization can buy what you offer? Which should be the next area that you penetrate? Even if you offer a functionally-oriented service, remember that not all the client’s spend for that area is in the formal functional organization. Companies spend a lot on marketing outside of the marketing group, for example, and often 50% of a client’s IT spend is outside IT.

4. Expand your network in the client’s organization.Increasingly, decisions are being made by 4, 5, 6, or more different stakeholders in a corporate organization. The broader your network, the more information you’ll have about the client’s needs, and the more likely it will be that you can effectively align the key decision makers to your solution.

5. Move up to the higher-level agenda. The goal your work is focused on is probably a lower-level goal or a subset of a larger agenda. Can you connect to that higher-level agenda, which would give you a much bigger and broader canvas to work on with the client?

6. Double your face time. More face time means more familiarity, likeability, and trust. It invariably leads to a greater understanding of your client’s agenda of key priorities. You don’t need a brilliant idea to ask for a short meeting or to have a cup of coffee with someone. If it’s a really senior executive, develop an idea or proposal for a meeting that they may find intriguing, or offer to share some special insight about their customers, their competitors, or a new best practice that is emerging.

7. Identify the next burning platform. The sale almost always goes quickly when the client perceives a truly urgent, “Red” issue. What could the next one be for your client? What do they perceive as the big rock they need to move this coming year—the next major challenge or opportunity? Give some serious thought and effort to identifying this for each of your highest potential client relationships.

8. Offer an assessment or pilot. These can be great, low-risk, low-key ways of jointly exploring an issue with a client who may not yet be ready to consider a large project or transaction. It’s a small, low-risk step that’s easy for a client to take and which could lead to something much bigger.

9. Get multi-level feedback. If it’s an ongoing client, conduct a comprehensive client relationship review. Get multiple levels of feedback—for example:
• Have one of your leaders meet with the client’s CEO or top functional executive (CFO, CHRO, etc.)
• Do a face-to-face, year-end relationship review with your key client contact
• Do an short online survey (e.g., Net Promoter Score, which utilizes only two or three short questions) of everyone who has worked with you and your firm over the last year

10. Bring new players into the relationship. Sometimes, we get complacent or just narrow-minded about the possibilities in a client relationship. Who else could you bring in from your firm to work on the account? Just having a new face with a new perspective can help surface valid ideas for growth that you may have discounted or previously ignored.

11. Hold a joint, collaborative account planning session.Why not invite the client to joint account planning session, under the banner of gaining a better understanding of their challenges and plans for next year so that you know how to best support them going forward? By the way, be sure to invite someone from your organization who is not actively involved in the account—having a detached, objective perspective during these discussions is invaluable. For example, he or she may very well ask some basic questions whose answers you are taking for granted…but which could open up a new and interesting dialogue.

12. Invest to create a new perspective. ROI has two parts to it: Investment, and Return. Are you only focused on the Return and not that motivated to Invest? Is there an issue or idea around which you can develop a tailored perspective for your client? All of my research shows that relationships grow when you invest in them. Pretty obvious, I know, but we often take our best relationships for granted.

13. Connect around enterprise-level themes. Step back from your day to day work with the client and ask yourself: Could you connect on some company-wide themes that may be above your day to day operational work with the client? These could include employee engagement, sustainability, globalization, digitization, security, diversity, and so on. Doing so will require you to get other parts of your own company involved. That’s what creates a true “B to B” relationship—when every function has a relationship with their counterpart at the client.

14. Leverage trigger events. Make a list of potential “trigger” events for your client. Are they getting tired of their incumbent provider? Has the incumbent slipped up in some way? Has there been a reorganization? Has a new executive come in from the outside? Has a competitor made some bold moves recently? Is new technology transforming their business model? Is the client’s industry consolidating? All of these things can trigger a desire to reallocate business among their suppliers, based on a perception of who is most capable of helping them deal with the new challenge.

15. Treat them like they are already your best client. This is a simple but powerful strategy: Treat your client or prospect like they are already your best client. Lavish them with attention and value-added ideas. Invest to get to know their organization. Do everything in this list! If you choose the right client to start with, you’ll be amazed at how effective this can be.

Relationships—in business and at home—usually either improve or deteriorate. They go forwards—or backwards. Rarely do they stay the same. Be intentional—it’s your choice!

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