How to Turn the First Sale into a Long-Term Relationship

For many professionals, the toughest part of building long-term client relationships is getting the client in the first place. But moving from the initial sale to an ongoing relationship has its own challenges. In fact, it requires careful planning and thought—starting on the very first day of your new relationship.


You need to follow these three steps:

Step one: Deliver on your promises

  1. Execute well. Without an initial foundation of quality delivery, you’ll struggle to get the next sale.
  2. Continue to build trust.
  3. Deliver on the results you promised, but also add some surprise and personal value
  4. Take time during the first engagement to develop your “likeability”: show you have a sense of humor, listen well, demonstrate flexibility, and get to know your client as a person.
  5. Demonstrate “ease of use.” You want the client to be thinking—they did a very good job. I trust them. They’ve added value. I like them, too. AND ideally—on top of all that—“they’re very easy to work with!”

Step Two: Build the Foundations for Relationship Growth

  1. Take this opportunity to walk the halls at the client’s organization and increase your informal interactions with not just your immediate client but other relevant executives as well.
  2. Continue to be agenda setting as well as delivering. Agenda setting does not stop just because you got the first sale—it’s an ongoing process.
  3. Be on the lookout for additional ways to be helpful to your client. This is a time when you especially want to be going the extra mile. For example:
  • Can you help your client prepare for a big presentation or meeting?
  • Can you share some unsolicited thoughts on an issue your client is grappling with?
  • Can you offer to review a plan or program they’ve developed?

Think about where your second and third sale might be. Again, this is not being pushy—if you believe in your service or product, and you see opportunities to add value, you owe it to your client and to yourself to put them on the table.

Step Three: Create a Repeat Buyer

  1. Begin early. If you wait until your very last meeting with a client—with your project ending—and then start talking about follow on opportunities, you are going to have an uphill slog.
  2. Add value, don’t sell. The process should feel to your client like you’re constructively pointing out problems and opportunities that you can help them address with your know-how.
  3. Follow the business development process! It’s a common and serious mistake to assume that, since you have an existing relationship, you can jump from initial discussion to signed contract in a single leap. The same basic building blocks must be in place whether its a prospect or an existing client. Ask yourself:
  • Is there an important problem or opportunity?
  • Are you talking to the person who actually “owns” the issue?
  • Have you established your credibility to address the issue?
  • Have you discussed and agreed the value that your work will deliver?
  • Are key stakeholders aligned?

What strategies have helped you move from initial project to a long-term relationship? Share your thoughts below. 

Back to top