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Building Business Relationships: It's Not Stalking If You Do It Right

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Written by John Doerr
President, RAIN Group

Ask a group of professional services providers how much of their business comes from existing clients and the answers usually will be 60%, 70%, 80%, or even more. Then ask them how much time they put into nurturing those same clients and the answers will be a little, not much, or none. Finally, ask why they spend so little time building relationships when there is potential for so much new business and the answers will be:

"Don't want to be a pest."

"Don’t have the time."

"I am not sure what to do to keep in touch."

"I feel like a stalker."

Obviously, doing great work is the first step in keeping in the best graces of your clients. But client loyalty can be fleeting and is not something you should take for granted.

Five Guidelines for Building Business Relationships

Here are five guidelines to make sure clients continue to think well of you.

  1. Assess the Opportunity: Staying top of mind takes time—something we all seem to have too little of. Before you launch into a six times (or more) per year contact plan, make sure you want to keep in touch. Ask yourself, "How much work will this client potentially have over the next 12 months? Over the next 2 years? Is it worth my time to make sure we are the first ones they think of for new assignments?"

    As much as we can grow to like our clients on a personal level, not all are worth a continuing business relationship. In addition, freeing ourselves from those with limited potential provides us with the time needed to focus our efforts on more fruitful opportunities.

  2. Provide New Insights and Ideas: The fear of bothering or annoying our clients keeps many service providers from contacting them. In some cases, that may actually be the truth, especially if your conversations consist of your asking, "So, what have you got for me this week?"

    In RAIN Group’s recent What Sales Winners Do Differently research, buyers reported the number one factor separating the winners from second-place finishers is “educated me with new ideas or perspectives.” If you provide some sort of value in each contact you make with your clients, they will look forward to hearing from you and ultimately remember you by the extra value you provide.

    You can provide value in the form of new information about trends in their industry, an article you thought would be of interest to them, or a perspective on a recent news item about the client’s company. Depending upon how well you have connected with this client, simply calling or taking them to lunch can be of value. (But don’t rely on your own good company as the value proposition every time.)

  3. Expand Their Knowledge of You: If you only call your clients once a year, do not be surprised when a client says, “I didn’t know you did that, too.” It is okay to let clients know about new services or other services you provide that they may not have sampled. If they are happy clients, they will certainly be open to hearing about the other work you do.

    They will be even more receptive to hearing about your services if you provide value in the telling—case studies, non-proprietary data from work you have successfully completed, similarities of problems and solutions, etc.

    As our good friend Andrew Sobel refers to it, become a person of interest. Become a thought leader, know what is happening in the marketplace, and build your own eclectic network of interesting people that you can connect to your clients. Make your clients want to reach out to you.

  4. Change the Communication Texture: We all like variety in our lives. Do not let your communication plan get stuck in the world of electronics. Letters, especially because they are so rare these days, stand out and get through. Hand-written cards, physical newsletters and brochures, and phone calls all provide a different feel and impression to your clients.

    By mixing up the vehicles, you stand a better chance of your clients actually seeing and reading what you have sent. In addition, old-fashioned hard copy materials will stay on the client’s desk and become more than just top of mind—they may be the closest at hand.
  5. Enhance the Relationship: In the end, professional services are all about relationships. True business relationships are honest, sincere, and of value to both parties. As you work to stay top of mind, also be true of heart in developing a relationship that is meaningful and desired by the client as much as it is desired by you. This will require getting to know not only the business side of your clients, but also who they are on a personal level.

The business relationship built on a strong foundation of constant, varied, and sincere communication has less of a chance of being pushed aside when someone new comes along or happens to be the last one in the door. Follow these five guidelines and the chances of your phone ringing the next time your client needs a service will be much greater.

Topics: Strategic Account Management