Digital is disrupting legacy business models and changing the way businesses operate. In the next 10 years, half of the S&P 500 will be at risk. To survive, businesses must move fast, adapt quickly and be innovative. Those that fail to do so will lose momentum and get left behind. The verdict is clear: every […]Read more
The business world is all about relationships. Your ability to build client relationships is the single most influential factor to growing your business and one of the surest measures of future success.
But building trusted relationships goes beyond a skill set. It is about being the right partner at all times, which means ongoing consideration of your client’s world and their place in it. It means being able to be fluid through constant shifts in the needs of their business. It requires boldness, transparency, and a keen awareness of a person’s well-being.
Whether you are a natural or a novice, the following lessons learned are great building blocks in establishing yourself as a trusted client partner.
The best piece of advice I’ve ever received is, “when a client talks, nothing you have to say matters.” It is a natural pitfall to interrupt or interject, but this can lead to an erosion of trust and sends an unintentional message that what you say matters more.
However, it is not enough to simply listen. Active listening requires intense focus, a true desire to seek understanding, and a genuine interest in what is being said. It also means asking the right questions to gain clarity and a depth of understanding. Over time, you will identify which questions solicit an open response and encourage dialogue and which ones don’t.
Mastery of active listening will unlock a new level of interaction and will make your clients feel truly valued. Remember, they are the most important person in the room, so make sure they experience it in every way.
Presence of Mind
There are two characteristics strong leaders and client managers share: the ability to remain calm and the ability to take quick and decisive action.
Clients hire business partners for their knowledge and expertise, but sometimes we become a stabilizing force during difficult or challenging times. This is of critical importance as enterprises experience major organizational change and ongoing disruption in the workplace.
If our clients can rely on us to deliver, they are able to focus on other priorities that are top of mind. This means balancing empathy while committing to the task at hand. It also means going beyond the transactional relationship and deepening the connection along the way. The key to long-term relationships is excelling through the status quo and being there during times of change and adversity.
How often do we hold back our thoughts, because we’re concerned about how it may be perceived? What we’ve found is the opposite holds true. When we are willing to have open and direct conversations with our clients, we create a foundation of shared trust and true accountability.
Clients often complain that business partners only say what they think clients want to hear. Yet, what clients desire is ongoing transparency and visibility throughout. Straight talk is not about being bold or direct. Straight talk comes from a place of genuine caring. It is about the intention behind the words and the resulting outcome.
Straight talk allows for collaborative and shared ownership of issues. It provides an opportunity to clarify assumptions, and address misunderstandings before they evolve into issues. The more you put this technique into practice, the less intimidating it will become. Over time, the label of what straight talk means disappears and the act becomes a cultural norm.
Make It Memorable
When it comes to the day-to-day, there are four C’s I live by when interacting with clients:
Context – understand your client’s world, the challenges they face, and what matters to them both personally and professionally. This requires an investment of your time, and more often, outside of project timeframes. It helps to frame communication when you have an understanding of your client’s interests or needs. It also means aligning your purpose and objectives to theirs.
Consideration – empathy, kindness, and humility goes a long way. As Maya Angelou said, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Likability is an implicit factor in most relationships. When you enjoy being around a person, you build a natural rapport and ideally, have fun along the way.
Consistency – make every interaction count by providing predictable outcomes in quality and service. Consistency requires a strong culture of shared values and alignment around delivery approach and methodologies. Don’t mistake consistency for complacency. Instead, it is about being a reliable partner they can count on, which also requires solicitation of ongoing feedback and an alignment in values.
Commitment – in any relationship, commitment is not a one-time event. It is an ongoing choice we make each day to put our best foot forward and to have the interest of the other person in mind. It’s being attentive to the little things as much as the big ones. Commitment is striving for the long term, but keeping the present in mind. It means admitting when you have failed, and asking for an opportunity to address it. If you’re fortunate enough to have a long-term partnership with a client, then you will know these opportunities are few and far between. Make the most of it and find new and exciting ways to reignite your relationship and make time feel like a gift you’ve been given and not an entitlement you have earned.
Regardless of your role and to what extent you engage directly with clients, there is only one truth to remember; without clients, businesses would not exist. Therefore, putting a client first is not a rule to live by. It is a necessity and a company’s reason for being.
It’s that simple.
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