20 Opportunities to Grow Your Client Relationships (Part II)
In Part 1 of this article, I set out the first 10 of 20 strategies or turning points which can give you an opportunity to grow a client relationship. These were:
1. A Company Crisis
2. A Personal Crisis
3. A Relationship Crisis or Client Dissatisfaction.
4. A difference of opinion
5. A new executive.
6. A step-change environmental event
7. A reorganization or restructuring.
8. By speaking truth to power.
9. When other incumbents make mistakes.
10. When there is an incumbent transition
My newest book, All for One, also contains over 100 examples of innovative practices for growing your client relationships. Already in its third printing since it was published 9 months ago, it’s available on Amazon.com at All for One.
This month, I’m sharing 10 more ways to get a client relationship on a growth track:
11. Leveraging reciprocity or balance of trade. If you work with a large organization, you may be in a position to use “balance of trade” as a strategy for growing a larger share of wallet of your client’s business. One of my clients, for example, dramatically grew its relationship with a major high-tech company on this basis. It turned out they purchased large amounts of equipment and software from the client, whereas the client used very few of their consulting services. This was brought up formally with the client’s top management, and the client agreed to give them the opportunity to be considered for new contracts and opportunities which had been previously sole-sourced to a competitor.
12. Engaging in client listening activities. There are many different opportunities and channels to get client feedback, and each one presents a slightly different opportunity to uncover information that will help advance the relationship. These include:
- Independent, institutional feedback (e.g., a formal client assessment process)
- Periodic, one-on-one conversations between the relationship manager and key client executives
- Senior management visits (e.g., your CEO meeting with the client’s CEO)
- Client surveys
13. Making targeted investments. Investments in a client relationship can take many forms, and they can often form the basis for “Agenda Setting” events that are designed to create a dialogue about the client’s key priorities. For example:
- “Deep Dives” into an issue of interest for a particular executive
- A free project
- Market research to create proprietary data and insights
- Bringing external resources to the client—e.g., a leading academic or expert in a subject of interest
- Tailored learning events for the client (seminars, workshops, training, etc.
14. Saying “No”. Saying “No” can often become the catalyst for moving from a Steady Supplier to a Trusted Advisor relationship. This could take the form of challenging a client’s priorities, for example, or declining inappropriate work. One of my clients, when asked to do some work in an area it was not particularly strong in, referred their client to a competitor. This reinforced their trustworthiness, and it strengthened, rather than weakened, the relationship.
15. Finding a new buyer. Sometimes, a strong relationship with a c-level buyer can propel a relationship to new heights. Sometimes, however, it’s a question of finding a new and perhaps non-traditional buyer who can become your champion (e.g., someone at a relatively low level but who has budget authority, or someone in an entirely different part of the organization).
16. Creating a new relationship environment. Most client interactions occur in a formal office setting. By changing that environment, you can augment the freshness and degree of intimacy in the relationship. This idea is supported by research involving married couples: Psychologists discovered that when the couples varied their “date night” ritual and went to new places and new events—rather than the same restaurant or movie theater each week—their feelings of intimacy and closeness increased. Changing the relationship environment could mean simply taking the client out to lunch, or, at the extreme, going offsite for a couple of days to strategize and set priorities.
17. Bringing new players into the relationship . If the same relationship manager and team has been working with the client for a long time, their perspectives can become limited and their energy and enthusiasm diminished. A client of mine worked with a large Fortune 500 corporation, and for years the revenues had been steadily shrinking—despite annual assurances by the lead partner that “we have a great relationship with this client—they love us!” In fact the client had changed significantly, and a new, more diverse set of executives were now in place. In what was viewed as a somewhat wrenching and disruptive move, the firm’s leadership put in a new, younger partner to revitalize the relationship. In three years the revenues went up 1000%!
18. Taking the perspective of a competitor. If you were a competitor trying to make inroads into your relationship with the client, what would your strategy be? Where would you attack? Which issues would you try to focus on? Which executives would you target for your own relationship-building efforts? Taking just an hour or two to think this through will most likely suggest some opportunities to expand your relationship, or at a minimum, protect it from competitive incursions.
19. Proposing long-term, partnership arrangements. A trusted client partnership is a step beyond trusted advisor. It implies mutual trust, long-term collaboration, and many-to-many relationships. It can also entail structural connections that go beyond the average professional-client relationship. These could include:
- Long-term contracts which reduce risk and increase value for both sides (e.g., discounts or rebates for assured volumes of business)
- Joint intellectual capital development. This could range from co-authoring articles to jointly owning trademarks or patents for collaboratively-developed intellectual property.
- Methodology showcases. For example, companies that have implemented Palladium’s “Balanced Scorecard” approach can win “Hall of Fame” status which results in positive mutual PR and brand enhancement.
- Employee exchanges. Some law firms, for example, will lend associates to work in a client’s in-house legal department for several months.
20. Doing joint Account Planning. Many companies conduct account planning exercises behind closed doors, where they brainstorm which services they can sell to the client during the coming year. Best practice is to conduct this jointly with the client. It sends a powerful message to the client if you say, “We are thinking about how we can best meet your needs during the coming year and add more than our share of value. We’d like to sit down with you to better understand your goals and plans, and then discuss the areas where we jointly believe we can add the most value.”
Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on client relationships and the skills and strategies required to earn enduring client loyalty. The most widely published author in the world on business relationships, he is a consultant, educator, and coach to major services firms worldwide. Andrew is the author of the recently released All for One: 10 Strategies for Building Trusted Client Partnerships—which was voted one of the top 10 professional services sales and marketing books of the decade—as well as the business bestsellers Clients for Life and Making Rain . He has contributed chapters to four books on leadership, marketing, and human resources management; and his articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, US Today, Strategy+Business, and the Harvard Business Review. He was a Senior Vice President and Country Managing Director for Gemini Consulting, where he served on the European Executive Committee, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors, Inc. He can be reached at andrewsobel.com (Tel: 505.982.0211).