Ask most people about the strength of their core client relationships and they'll say, "Great. Rock solid."
Yet these comments usually refer to how much rapport or trust sellers feel they have with the client. They don't answer the question through the lens of business value the client receives from them.
They're also often thinking more of the relationship they feel they have with their client, not how their client feels about them.
To assess the strength of your relationship with a client, the key is to view it through their eyes. You can start by evaluating your relationships using these 7 questions:
1. Does the client see us as a partner?
And what's the nature of that partnership? Do they come to us proactively looking for strategic guidance? For specific advice? Or, do they only listen to us when we reach out to them? Indeed, do they listen to us if we reach out to them?
2. How does the buyer view the value we deliver?
Is it breakthrough—have we made a huge, game-changing impact on their business? Is it major—have we made a measurable and worthwhile impact on their business? Something else? Note that if you have made an impact, but the client can't articulate it, then the client may not value it.
3. If we were to end the relationship, how would the client perceive that loss?
Would it cause no challenges for the client? Some challenges? Major challenges? Catastrophic difficulties? Again, keep in mind we’re talking about how challenging the client would perceive that loss, not you.
4. If someone else proposed to our client that they should replace us, how would the client view that?
Would they resist the change? Would they fight to keep us? Do we have one or more champions who would go to bat for us?
5. To what extent are we required to participate in a client's competitive bidding process?
Are we typically required to bid with no or little early knowledge of the criteria? Are we only required to bid sometimes? Do we help shape the bidding or procurement process before anyone else gets involved?
6. How likely are our clients—specifically the people with whom we have direct relationships—to replace us on their own?
Would they actively seek a new supplier? Listen to overtures from competitors? Or, would they be unlikely to even take an audience with our competitors?
7. Does the client recommend us to others?
Do they recommend us proactively? Only if we ask? Never?
Based on your answers to these questions, plot your relationship in The Relationship Strength Meter below—a tool for gauging how essential you are to your clients, from the point of view of what they would say.
Once you've plotted your relationship in the grid, it's time to start thinking about why the relationship is where it is, what can be done to strengthen it, and how much investment energy you should place in one client or another.
What Essential Relationships Look Like
Most sellers have at least one relationship where they find themselves, for the most part, at the top (essential) level. They say clients would answer the questions something like this:
- Partnership: "We partner with them proactively at the highest appropriate levels when we are considering new strategies in the areas relevant to them."
- Impact on success: "We get breakthrough results with them."
- Relationship loss: "Losing our partnership would be catastrophic."
- Reaction to replacement: "Not going to happen on my watch."
- Competitive bidding: "Sometimes I have to go to bid, but they shape the request for proposals with me. If I can swing it, I sole source to them."
- Replace by themselves: "No."
- Would recommend: "Yes, proactively."
Strong client relationships lead to repeat business, account growth, increased referrals, and greater revenue and margin for your business. Yet often, when you look at relationships from the buyer's perspective, they are not as strong as they could and should be. Use this chart to determine how strong your client relationships are and what you can do to get them to the essential level.