Clients for Life: Five principles

A burning question

I recently presented a webinar on business growth for a network of professional advisors. It was in the form of a Q&A session. One of the questions that came up from a number of the 100+ attendees was “how do we build longevity into our client relationships?” It’s a key question for individual professionals and for firms. If we want to build value for the business or for our own “personal brand”, then recurring, predictable business flow is essential. Transactional business gives an instant hit but recurring business gives embedded value. It also makes life immeasurably easier and more fulfilling. I hugely enjoy the excitement of new client acquisition but it’s recurring income from long term relationships that is the lynch pin of a successful professional services business. So what are the keys to having “clients for life”? I offered the audience five proven and enduring principles. Here they are:

Keep adding value

Make sure you know what matters most to your client – today and for tomorrow and make sure you are focussed on meeting those needs. I had a banking client who said this to me: “Keep bringing me new ideas. You know me better than almost all my other advisors so come to me with ideas that you believe I’ll find useful. Don’t expect me to take you up on every one, but please keep bringing them to me. That’s how you give me real value.” Think about how you could be adding value to your client relationships – introductions to other experts in your firm or network, new insights or research, thought leadership, innovative ways of working. Keep adding value.

Give to get – invest some time

Don’t expect to be paid for every minute you invest in your existing clients. Be prepared to put some of your marketing time into existing clients as well as prospects. Propose a meeting to step back and look at the wider picture with them. Take time to talk to others in the client. Propose a speculative approach where you’ll put some time in if they will too. Be willing to speak at their events. Engage with them in a project they are passionate about. The clock doesn’t always need to be ticking. I know there is a risk of “project creep” and unbilled work. But the risk of not doing this is far greater than doing it in a transparent, managed and generous way.

Treat clients like prospects

It’s all too easy to get complacent in existing relationships. But dynamic, growing, sustainable relationships need to be earned. There’s a story of the husband who said to his wife several years into their marriage: “I told you when I married you I loved you and if anything had changed I would have kept you informed!” You know and I know that doesn’t work! Keep the relationship fresh. Keep asking questions. Stay inquisitive. In a volatile world client loyalty is continually under threat so you need to be active in making your clients feel valued. When a competitor calls them you want them to say “thanks for the call but I’m absolutely happy with my present provider. They do everything I need and more and I wouldn’t even consider meeting you. We’d both be wasting our time…” Treat your valued clients like attractive prospects.

Cover the bases

The English poet John Donne said in the seventeenth century: “no man is an island”. We live in an interconnected and interdependent world. So if we are to build clients for life we need to be engaging with people across the client organisation, not just our “best friend” who knows. likes and trusts us. This applies with individual clients too and may mean developing some relationship with their other advisors or with family members or colleagues. For example the marketing director of a leading fund manager told me: “we just don’t deal with individuals any more. We have to recognise that every individual is part of a complex web of family, friends, colleagues and advisors – any of whom could help us or hinder us as we work with our client.” In B2B the need to cover the bases is even greater. People move on, roles get abolished, whole units disappear in restructures, businesses change owners. You need to widely connected across your client if you are to sustain the relationship in a volatile world. I’m immensely impressed by the lead partner in a global accountancy practice who manages his firm’s relationship with a leading bank. he estimates they have 200 contacts across the bank and he has a quarterly plan to make sure he and his team are in contact with all 200 and meeting new contacts as they are appointed.

Manage the quiet times

Not every client will spend with you all the time. Some clients may well deal with you episodically – driven by corporate or life events. But you need to be sure that when a situation arises that you could help with, then it’s you that they reach out to first. The danger is that when the cash tills aren’t ringing we stop speaking to our client. We’re busy on other clients. We have a monthly quota to reach and they can’t help us hit this month’s target. We don’t know what to talk to them about. This silence in the quiet times kills relationships. To my shame one client once said to me “Richard, the only times we hear from you are when you’re selling to us or working on a project with us. Don’t you care about us?” If we are to build recurring or repeat business we need to be in touch with clients even when they’re not buying. It may be through social media. It may be picking the phone up. It may by meeting them to update them on trends you are seeing or sending them a piece of research. It may be introducing them to someone in your network they might find useful. Keep the contact going in the quiet times. It builds clients for life.

Is it worth it?

Yes it is. I’ll end with two examples I’m very familiar with. A firm won two pieces of business from two life assurers at more or less the same time. Both projects were for about £30,000. Both grew to £150,000 over the next six months. But one project remained a single transaction and the relationship returned to zero after eighteen months. The other carried on over an initial eight years generating well in excess of £3Million. There was then a gap of 2 years following major changes in the client but the relationship resumed with different buyers and generated a further £2Million over the next five years. Both involved effective new business acquisition but doing the things outlined in this post made the difference between a great transaction and a great long term relationship delivering recurring and repeat business and significant benefits for both the firm and their client. It’s definitely worth the effort.

If any of these points resonate with you and you’d like to explore them in more detail please send me an InMail or contact me at richard@C3advisory.com or on +44 7712 588757. In the meantime do share this post with your team and network.

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