How do Partners in your firm feel about their role in building client relationships and ensuring their loyalty? Do they have concerns that cross-selling other services could bother or annoy their clients? Your client feedback programme can actively help Partners broach this subject. Clients like it when you take a real interest in their world, their lives and their aspirations, and happy clients are willing to listen.
In an article “Building Business Relationships: It’s Not Stalking If You Do it Right” John Doerr of RAIN Group addressed this challenge, and gave 5 guidelines for building better business relationships. Here we remind you of these 5 guidelines - and add comments from our experience in working with a large number of professional services firms on client feedback programmes:
- Assess the opportunity. Doerr suggests that you assess how much work the client will give you over the next 12 months and over the next 2 years, and whether you want to be the first person that they call in every case. He suggests freeing yourselves from those with limited potential and using the time on more fruitful opportunities.
Comment: This can be a hard decision in the case of approachable clients that may have been with you a while, but it can be a pragmatic way to free up expensive resources to direct towards more profitable clients and new business opportunities. A client feedback program can be used to deliver more efficient touch points to these clients.
- Provide new insights and ideas. In Rain’s research, buyers reported that those who won their business “educated me with new ideas and perspectives” whilst non-winners did not. A planned contact that delivers ideas, rather than being an obvious exercise in staying in touch will be more valued and effective.
Comment: It is vital first to understand what ideas and perspectives your clients already have and to invest time in bringing new ideas to the table. Often post-matter feedback is highly specific, whereas relationship feedback is more general. Valuable though this feedback is (and it has often retrieved high-value clients who were thinking of moving elsewhere) could it be worth asking broader open questions at intervals, to help you identify trend across your client base? With a properly constructed customer insight programme you can take perspectives on client thinking and industry trends and strengthen your position as a valued and trusted advisor.
- Expand clients’ knowledge of you and the other services that you provide. Partners often feel awkward about discussing this, but RAIN say that happy clients will be particularly open to hearing about this if your Partners “provide value in the telling” using case studies and non-proprietary data from similar situations elsewhere.
Comment: Do you distil information from your feedback, not just about their clients, but about trends and successful outcomes from your other services, for Partners to use as conversation-openers? Even if a client does not buy right away, this does add to your firm’s perceived authority. Transcripts with attributable quotes from client feedback programmes can be a key proof point in validating the range of products and services you offer.
- Change the communication texture. Doerr says, “Do not get stuck in the world of electronics … letters, hand-written cards, physical brochures and phone calls all add a different feel and impression to your client” – and may stay longer on their desk if these are interesting.
Comment: We are all for a variety of methods, but you also need to work out how they want to hear from you. Is this something that you check with them from time to time? People work in different ways and if you take their feedback in this area you will be able to develop more effective ways of delivering your key messages.
- Enhance the Relationship - “True business relationships are honest, sincere and of value to both parties.”
Comment: We find that Partners who feel that they are not so much “selling” existing and additional services, but genuinely addressing clients’ problems and bringing ideas to the table, tend to feel much more confident of the value to both parties. They also have greater confidence when they know that they have the evidence of doing a good piece of work for a client. They are therefore more willing to raise the topic of additional services and are more relaxed, and so the client does not feel “hustled”. It may be worth asking to what extent your client feedback programme gives your firm this reassurance, including independent information about the quality of other services that they may be considering introducing to clients. We know, from what our own clients say, that positive feedback is a significant energiser for all staff - including Partners!