Strong Relationships Are All In The Details
BY SHIRAZ ALI – PROJECT MANAGER
Building client relationships can be tough. But turning a “tough” client into an advocate is all in how you approach the relationship. The success of any B2B company relies heavily on strong client relationships, especially if you are a small fish competing against whales within the industry. So how do you then differentiate yourself from your competition and what can you do to strengthen your client relationships?
Believe it or not, attention to small details can sometimes be the game changer in building long-lasting relationships. A few years ago, I was working with a so-called “tough” client. The lead stakeholder was reluctant to a consulting company coming in and advising her on what to do. Almost immediately, my number one goal became to somehow shift her mindset from viewing us simply as staff augmentation, to more of a trusted partner and advisor. This particular stakeholder was a longtime senior business leader who was extremely reluctant to change—the task seemed impossible! Stories had been told of how many consulting groups had come and gone with no impact. But I refused to be bucketed in with all the rest.
Over time, I was able to build a solid relationship with that “tough” client and now I’m just as integrated with the team as anyone. How’d I do it? Read on.
Understand your stakeholders
This goes way beyond simply understanding what your key stakeholder does or is responsible for on a daily basis. To really understand where your client is coming from, you have to understand their personality type. Are they introverted? Are they extroverted? Do they listen before responding? Do they like being the center of attention? Are they more reserved? The worst thing you can do is miss a key personality trait, and really rub the person who is supposed to be your closest ally the wrong way.
This goes beyond note taking and eye contact. When dealing with a client, I am actively focused on what my client is saying verbally, but also what they may be implying based on their emotions. My goal is to understand the feelings and views of the person so I can understand the ask in context. Getting a directive that is bathed in frustrated sighs tells me there is more to this ask than what is being said. The more you actively listen and empathize, the easier it is to build a strong relationship.
It’s cliché, but it’s true—honesty is the best policy. A client stakeholder can usually smell the BS coming from a mile away. Even though nobody likes to be the messenger when it comes delivering bad news, clients appreciate getting the truth instead of lip service. After all, keeping it real is a consultant’s job. In the long term, you will have built trust between you and your key stakeholder, and trusted advisors have a much better chance at sticking around.
It’s the Little things
Over the years I have learned that most people enjoy talking about themselves—they just need to be asked the right questions. Every time I meet a new business contact, I make it a point to meet them in person, preferably in their office. Why? People tend to surround themselves with things they enjoy and things that say something about their personality. This could be artwork from their kids, vacation photos, random collectibles, or memorabilia from their favorite sports team. All of these are free advertisements for icebreaker ideas and conversation topics. “I noticed you have a hockey puck on your shelf—I used to play hockey growing up in Canada.” Boom—instant conversation starter. I always challenge myself to find at least two things in common that I can use to get a dialog going. Not only does it help you get a better feel for the client, but it helps the client get a better feel for you, too.
Go the extra mile
When it is all said and done, the work does the talking. Proactively ensure project risks are avoided. Provide timely project updates that constantly reassure your client partner that their expectations are being met and that they are in capable hands. If time and budget permits, try and go out of your way to answer all of the client’s questions—even if they are not in scope. Treating a client’s problems as your own is their dream scenario. Show them that you took their guidance and feedback seriously.
We all know that strong relationships aren’t built overnight. At Elicit, we pride ourselves in being unique and better than all the other guys who have come and gone. From day one we are focused on being perceived as part of the team instead of just a vendor. Building real relationships with all of our clients is the goal. Paying attention to the small details is just one of the ways each client partnership we embark on is a personalized and collaborative journey.