Question: What’s the difference between a vendor and a trusted partner?
Answer: Years of blood, sweat and tears in building a solid client relationship. You can’t fake good client relationships. There are no shortcuts to attaining them, and you can’t build them at all if you’re not sincere in your efforts.
Real, lasting client relationships are worth their weight in gold, so they need to be built on more than just sales pitches and bluster. These relationships can survive adversity and occasional missteps (after all, who doesn’t make a mistake now and then?). They’re what solid businesses are usually built upon. You needn’t be the cheapest vendor, either, or with the absolute best product; most companies are willing to pay a little more to a vendor that truly “gets” them and makes it easy to do business with, and these relationships overcome even superior services from the competition.
There aren’t any shortcuts for these relationships. But there are tips for building that foundation over time. Here are five of the most important tips.
Tip #1: Learn Your Client’s Business
Even if your services are fairly generic and you have a variety of clients across multiple industries, take the time to learn each client’s business and marketplace. It’s a way of showing that you care about their success, that you’re committed to their business and you’re making a significant effort to understand what their long-term goals are.
If you’re building websites for businesses, for example, help the client understand that you’re willing to reinvent the wheel for them to help them succeed, and not taking a “one size fits all” approach by tweaking templates from client to client for minor customization.
Create Google alerts related to your client’s company and broader industry to keep abreast of new developments and track the company’s marketing activities and social media accounts as one way to do this. Social media monitoring apps such as Hootsuite and Buzzsumo allow you to “listen” to posts and events that affect your clients’ businesses, and may help light up opportunities to take the client relationship to the next level.
Tip #2: Make It Easy for Clients to Book Your Services
We’ve all used a service that was hard to interact with: that vendor whose only point of contact is a generic email address or voice mailbox that may (or may not) get a message through and a prompt response. In these cases, scheduling and even payment become difficult, and the likelihood of mistakes and unsatisfactory service rises. High levels of accessibility could be a relationship-making selling point for you and a competitive edge over other service providers.
Be sure you’re responding to client calls and messages immediately, even if it’s just to reassure them you’ll get in touch soon with more thorough answers to their questions or needs.
Modern apps for service professionals can help providers connect with their customers online and via mobile devices better while simultaneously helping everyone manage time better, too. Small business platforms such as Amidship are designed for service providers who wish to create bridges to their clients and improve communications. Service providers can create their own websites quickly and easily, manage their schedules on a centralized platform that is shareable with clients, monitor sales (as well as payments and invoices), and easily track clients’ unique histories to better customize services to fit their needs.
Tip #3: Be Flexible About Client Requests
One of the best things you can do to cultivate great client relationships is be willing to accommodate your clients’ unique needs and special requests (within reason). Hearing “No, sorry. We don’t do that” in response to a reasonable request isn’t going to endear you to clients. “Take it or leave it” is another attitude to avoid.
Determine what your clients’ biggest pain points are and put forth suggestions about how to solve them. Reward your clients for being good clients. The upside to being flexible is the potential to sell value-added services.
“As you grow your business and your client relationships, there will be times that you’ll have to make a decision on when to adjust or expand your core offerings to cater to the needs of a client,” wrote Forbes contributor Gauri Sharma, CEO of market research firm Lab42. “The benefits of offering customized solutions are two-fold: 1) clients remember the times you came through for them and 2) it may open up additional revenue streams and new product offerings you had not previously considered.”
Tip #4: Don’t Over-Promise
Values do matter, and honesty is the only policy for building and nurturing a long-term relationship. While it’s tempting to throw the kitchen sink at a new client in the beginning because you just want to win the business, you’re not doing yourself any favors in the long run if you’re promising things you can’t deliver, according to Greg Hong writing for Entrepreneur from the customer’s perspective.
“Be careful of potential partners that over-promise,” he wrote. “No one can give you everything under the sun. Make sure you feel like you’re being told exactly what they can — and can’t — provide and that they’re adequately and truthfully representing their skills. Companies that are honest about their capabilities and potential shortcomings are ultimately a better fit than those that promise you the moon but cannot deliver.”
Tip #5: Be Patient About the Relationship
While it may be tempting to go overboard on the schmoozing to try and artificially “bond” with a new client, it usually won’t feel genuine. Your end goal should be building a strong and long-term customer relationship, not closing a quick deal as soon as possible to get this quarter’s numbers up. The quick sale is what bad sales teams do; you can do better.
When you take the time to cultivate great client relationships, you’re not only rewarded with long-term business, you’re positioning yourself better for referrals and recommendations. If you give the impression that you’re only in it until the next invoice is sent, you’re unlikely to become a trusted and recommended partner.
Put these five tips into practice and start that process of cultivating lasting client relationships. You can build these relationships. Just not instantaneously.