Almost everyone working in the digital sector knows how tricky it can be to recruit new clients. But oftentimes, an even more difficult task is managing existing client relationships.
Is the client getting everything they need from you? Are you stuck in an endless loop of meetings and revisions? Do you feel a sense of panic or frustration every time the client calls? Or, on the flip side, are they ignoring all of your calls?
Many account managers have horror stories of dealing with difficult clients. But at the same time, these account managers likely have had little to no training or experience with “relationship management.” And this lack of experience can be where common mistakes or missed opportunities crop up.
Chad Banman is the President of Sandler Training, a firm that specializes in sales and leadership training. His company is developing a digital account management training program to address the common issues many companies face when engaging with new or existing clients.
Here, Chad outlines the most common mistakes that people make when working with ongoing clients.
Too often, says Chad, we treat our interactions with clients as a transaction. “They come to us and ask for something, and we just do it. We don’t talk to them about their needs, or how they will judge the final work.”
It takes time, but he says it’s important to build a proper relationship with the client. You need to get to know their quirks and personalities, and find out what their real needs are when they ask for a specific product or service.
“If we just blindly do the thing they ask for, that turns us into a commodity, and they don’t see the real value,” says Chad. “You build value when you get to know them, and learn things about them that others don’t know. Then, when they say they want x, y, z, you can push back and say: is that what you really need?”
“If you don’t have that special relationship with them, they’re just going to see you as replaceable.”
“I don’t like the term ‘the customer is always right’,” says Chad. “That belief can be toxic. No relationship is one-way.”
Everyone, including the product or service provider, has the right to say “no”, and put boundaries on the relationship. Those boundaries are critical, and must be laid out at the very beginning of the contract, “like setting a bedtime for your kids.”
These can include what the deadlines are for each stage of the project, when the client can contact you and expect a response, what the expectations are for change requests, how quickly you’ll respond to questions, etc.
You’ll want to both agree on the project and the process. Anything they want you to do later on, outside of what you agreed on, is extra, and should result in change fees. This way, you avoid surprising the client with extra billing.
“Talking in advance is way better than trying to deal with it after,” says Chad. “If they don’t like the process you have, that’s okay. Ultimately, your core values and beliefs have to be in alignment with each other, and if they’re not, maybe you weren’t meant to work together.”
Too often, says Chad, companies become fixated on “doer” mode, i.e. carrying out the specific tasks requested of them, and not “opportunity” mode. The client could have other needs that either you aren’t aware of, or they aren’t aware you have the ability to address them.
“Set up regular conversations with your client to talk about other things going on in their company,” says Chad. “Ask them about the projects they’re working on, what’s changing in their business. Be proactive.”
“If you see your client working with a competitor on something you could’ve done, it just shows you didn’t talk to them enough.”
Oftentimes, service providers have one main contact within their client’s organization. But what happens when that contact leaves the company?
“Are you actively asking for introductions to their colleagues?” asks Chad. “Are you talking to the people above them? Or below them? That could be the person who takes over their role when they leave.”
You don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re cold-calling a company you’ve been working with for years. This is why it’s important to maintain multiple layers of connections.
“It’s also a good idea to maintain connections with the person who made the purchasing decision, not just the account manager,” says Chad. That way, you have a direct line to the decision-makers.
And of course, it’s also important to show gratitude for the work you’re getting — a thank-you gift, or a card to commemorate the holidays, can go a long way to strengthening your client relationship.
Don’t go into a business relationship to get your emotional needs met.
“That sounds obvious, but what that means is, don’t push your preferred style of communicating onto your client,” says Chad. “We all have an individual way of interacting with others that feels natural to us, but that may not be the best method for the person across the table.”
You need to determine the personality type of your client. They may be more direct in their comments, which could come across as abrasive or even offensive to you, but that is not their intention. It’s just how they express honest feedback.
“Never accept abuse, but you do need to learn to accept the communications style of the client.”
Some clients want a lot of data and background information in order to comfortably make a decision. Some want to take their time at the start of the meeting and talk about their weekend or pastimes, despite you being in a hurry to move the conversation along. But that’s just who they are.
You need to adapt your style of working and conversing to make the client comfortable, not the other way around.
“You may need to ‘act’ a little, but so be it,” says Chad. “Ultimately, good relationship management means making small compromises for the greater good of everyone.”
Sandler Training will be launching its three-part, annual Digital Account Management program this fall. The course is designed to give account managers the skills they need to communicate effectively with the clients. This includes setting clear expectations, better controlling the engagement process, and how to uncover new opportunities without pressuring the client.
For more information on the program, contact their training team.