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How to Develop and Maintain Strong Client Relationships

You know you need to differentiate yourself from your competition. And having a strong value proposition can help you do so. But sometimes buyers might consider your services to be the same as those from other providers. What do you do in that situation? It actually comes down to the relationship-whether the buyer likes you-says RAIN Group President Mike Schultz.

People buy with their hearts and justify with their heads, Schultz says. They pick people who make the best personal connection with them.

That's why client relationships are so important.

How do you establish that connection? How do you develop strong client relationships? It begins with your initial contact with prospects. Say, for example, you meet someone in a social context or the person is someone you know personally. They are a decision maker in a business that is an ideal client for your firm, and you'd love to tell them how your products and services can help his company-but you don't want to come off as a pushy salesperson.

In that situation, you want to simply initiate a conversation about issues in their industry. Ask for advice or feedback, suggests Vickie K. Sullivan, founder and president of Sullivan Speaker Services:

"If you have a speech or article coming up, ask if you can interview the person to get their perspective. That's a great conversation starter and will showcase your ideas in a non-selling situation. Be sure to send them the article or video clip of the speech showing their contribution. Those multiple touch points get the message across much better than selling them first time out."

It's the beginning of a relationship you can then nurture over time.

If you contact prospects via email, sending information about industry changes, research reports, or case studies, make the correspondence personal. Make a point to mention something of personal interest, such as their recent accomplishment (addition to staff, industry award, mention of them in a published article, etc.) or even a win from their favorite sports team. Doing so shows you are interested in them and not just their buying dollar. Again, think relationship. Think long-term.

One reader even suggests adding a personal touch to email that is sent in response to website inquiries:

"When registrants receive a personalized email as opposed to an automated response—especially when they have registered interest in a certain offer or service-it has improved response rates. At the very least it helps our reputation, so that if a potential client is unable to commit at this time, they are far more likely to return to us when they have the budget in the future or to refer us to others."

The main thing that will help you develop good client relationships with prospects and clients is demonstrating that their needs come first. You have to see their issues as they do and be able to explain clearly solutions to help them-even if the solution comes from someone other than you. Being genuine in what you suggest and offer goes a long way toward developing trust with the buyer and establishing a good working relationship.

"What works best for me," says RainMaker Blog Reader Raj Bowen, is "helping the prospect as a friend (even if they end up going with someone else) to make sure they are addressing a true need and getting it right and working collaboratively with the client stakeholders to build a solution together."

The Best Business Comes from Repeat Clients

Once you establish the buyer as a client, don't let the relationship end. It's time to take it to the next level and keep clients as happy as possible. Not only make sure the service you deliver is excellent, but stay in touch with them after the contract is fulfilled. Offer support throughout the year, send them articles and reports they might be interested in, call them once a quarter to check in, send them gifts marking their anniversary with you as a client.

Use those touches to also make sure clients know about all of your services, adds Erica Stritch, Vice President at RAIN Group. Because while they may know about the one service they received, they probably don't know about other ways you can help. Says Stritch:

"Tapping your current (and past) client base, introducing them to other services, and networking your way through the client firm are all ways to grow and get new projects. Your direct contact can act as an internal champion for you and your services to introduce you to other decision makers within their organization."

The more you stay in front of someone, the more you are on their mind and likely to call on you when a new need arises. Plus, they're more apt to refer you to others. Do not underestimate the power of a client's happiness and word of mouth; client relationships-both positive and negative-impact the success or failure of your business.

Additional Reading
5 Ways to Create New Business in Your Accounts

What is it that strategic account managers must do to grow their accounts? Surely, most would agree SAMs should be proactively driving strategic sales opportunities rather than simply waiting and reacting to buyer queries. That is to say: to make new sales, SAMs should be prospecting inside their accounts. Yet, in most organizations, this doesn't happen.

[New Research] Benchmark Report on Top Performance in Strategic Account Management

When we studied strategic account management in 2012, 59% of sales leaders believed there was greater than 25% revenue growth potential in their existing accounts.

In a separate, more recent research initiative, we found that the #1 priority for sales leaders in the year ahead is to increase business with existing accounts. We also discovered that Top Performers are nearly 2x more likely to be effective at maximizing sales to their existing accounts.

The Holy Grail of Strategic Account Management

For our Top Performance in Strategic Account Management Benchmark Report, we studied two specific processes for driving value with accounts.

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