Stop pretending. How to be a true partner to your clients in 5 steps.
Today more than ever, companies like to use the word “partner” to differentiate the relationship with their clients. It is an easy word to say, but what does it mean to truly be a business partner vs. play one on corporate television? Here are 5 steps that will set you apart as a pro rather than as an actor. This isn’t a feel-good, easy checklist. To be a real partner, it takes authenticity, doing what’s hard and following through.
Step 1: Take a sincere interest
One of the first things I tell people who work with clients is to take a sincere interest in their client’s business. Regardless of how you got in the door (quality, price, etc.), you should invest in your relationship every day to continue to earn the business. Obviously, you need to understand the central business need you are trying to support. But why not go beyond that and provide value in more ways than just what your product or service has to offer? You can research what is happening within your client’s organization and make your contacts aware of changes (unless confidential). You can provide information you’ve learned about their competitors and their industry market trends. You may think this sounds like a ‘nice to have’ activity, but helping your client to be more informed, more efficient and better at what they do is the hallmark of being a real partner, so schedule time on your calendar and do it!
Step 2: Keep your client informed
The fastest way to build confidence is to provide your client with an update before they think to ask for it. “No information” leads to making assumptions or a nervous client. A common mistake people make is to wait until they have more information or a better update before reaching out. Even if you have no news or bad news, proactively provide updates to your clients letting them know where you are at, what you have been working on and any mistakes or challenges that have occurred. Constant communication reassures a client that their business is in good hands.
Beyond frequently updating a client, take the time to share some of the details about the effort that has gone into your work. By doing so, you address any misguided and hidden assumptions a client might have about the difficulty of an activity. For example, you can let a client know that you have screened 40 candidates and conducted 12 face-to-face interviews in order to provide them with three resumes. Without the details, a client may wonder why it took 1-2 weeks to find three resumes and could potentially decide that you are not being productive. Sharing the details of your efforts also gives you an opportunity to discuss any difficulties you are seeing in the market place or their request early on, before it becomes out of hand.
Step 3: Always show appreciation
Being a partner means supporting and advocating for your client’s business. Even when you lose, show your appreciation because as a partner, you should care more about your client getting what is best for them vs. closing the deal. To show appreciation, thank them for the opportunity and congratulate them on their decision. Let them know what you’ve learned through the process of working with them and how you will use your experience to better support their organization in the future. Going back to step 1 and 2, follow up with your client regularly through a sincere interest to see if the product or service they selected is still working out for them.
Step 4: Be honest
One of the best ways you can build credibility is by being brutally honest about your capabilities. I wish it could go without saying, but be honest – to you and your client.Lying to yourself through wishful thinking or to your client by over-promising is a short-term game. What are you trying to accomplish? A list full of ex-prospects that don’t trust the promises of your services, or a roster of solid clients that know you will always be candid about what you can and can’t do for them? To be honest means only taking on opportunities where you know you can deliver. Rather than trying to be all things to all people, focus on the business that you want and can excel at. It’s a lot more fun and it saves you the stress from apologizing.
Step 5: Address issues with an on-going quality program
Despite best efforts, sometimes you may be faced with losing a client. If it’s due to reasons from within your company, don’t just say “the right things” to keep the business. Do the right things by being serious about getting better for your client. The best way to do this is to create an internal program that identifies root causes and addresses the issues on an ongoing basis. Map out the issues, determine who will own fixing them, and how it’s going to get done. Then, make your improvements a priority by routinely measuring and reporting on the progress – including your successes and challenges.
The term partner is easy to throw around in sales meetings and marketing material. To truly be a partner, you need to authentically care about and invest in your client’s business. This means doing the right thing even when it is the hard thing. Although there are numerous ways you can do right by your client, I believe these five steps are the foundation of every good partnership. What else do you do to build lasting partnerships and exceed your client’s expectations?