Without clients and partners, businesses wouldn’t get very far. As most leaders know, the quality of these relationships can determine success or failure. Managing client relationships effectively is key to achieving mutual goals. You don’t want the partnership to become unbalanced, as you both have resources you need from the other. Plus, you want to avoid communication, rapport, and reputation problems as much as possible.
But what does effective client relationship management look like? It’s often a combination of strategies, structured systems, and soft skills. If you’re here to learn how to improve the way your company manages its partnerships, you’re in luck. Read on to discover four tips you can start implementing right away.
1. Take the Lead With Communication
Relationships break down when communication does. However, there are various dynamics at play here. Each side may have different assumptions and preferences. It’s sometimes easy to pick up on these differences from a few conversations.
You might have one client who is OK with a monthly check-in over email. Another wants more frequent updates over the phone and will hunt you down with urgency if they don’t hear anything. Regardless of style, the most important move is to take initiative by establishing mutual guidelines and expectations.
No one wants misunderstandings or radio silence. Nonetheless, it may be unrealistic to meet with every client each week. You may need to rely on collaboration software for project updates and use a calendar management tool to share schedules. As long as you have a system for how and when you communicate, neither side will be left hanging.
2. Hold Each Other Accountable
Professional partnerships can fail when one side pulls more weight than the other. Mismatched priorities, a lack of boundaries, and no accountability guidelines may contribute to this. Say your company specializes in web design and digital marketing. One of your clients has hired your firm to help revamp their website.
At the beginning of the project, you both agreed to devote specific resources. You were going to dedicate 20 hours a week. And your client was going to hire a full-time web developer to assist. Both sides also agreed on a deadline for the project’s completion. However, you didn’t establish guidelines for what would happen if your dedicated resources were inadequate.
As a result, the deadline keeps getting pushed out. Each side is growing frustrated and upset. The relationship turns sour because of a lack of planning for mutual accountability. A balanced contingency plan should have kicked in at the first sign of trouble.
Say your client didn’t hire the full-time developer, or they onboarded late in the game. Resetting the project timeline, communicating what your company could realistically accomplish, or revisiting the contract are appropriate actions to take. The same would apply if the situation were reversed and your company couldn’t dedicate 20 hours a week. When accountability discussions don’t happen, it can lead to damaged reputations and legal consequences.
Your client is there because they need your expertise. While understanding their perspectives and goals is critical, it doesn’t mean you should agree with everything they say. After all, they’re coming to you for guidance. If a client suggests something unrealistic or out of alignment with their objectives, it’s up to you to tell them.
Although you might avoid a debate by always being agreeable, this stance may do more harm than good. Projects can flop, and clients may wonder why you didn’t warn them. Each side ends up losing.
The client could decide to end the relationship because of undesired outcomes. Even if they don’t cut ties, repairing the relationship won’t be smooth sailing. By holding back your expertise, you might damage both your reputations. It’s better to be open about your insightful opinion about a project’s direction before it gets off the ground. In the long run, you’ll improve your chances of earning your client’s respect and trust.
4. Maintain Professionalism
Some business partners will attempt to engage you in heated discussions. They may try to get your goat if you’re at an impasse. Interactions might also turn ugly when there are misunderstandings or mismatched expectations.
While it’s tempting to be condescending and ignore the problem, try to remain professional. In some cases, professionalism means ending the relationship or establishing new boundaries. You and your team don’t get paid to take abuse. And no partnership is worth being taken advantage of.
When there appears to be a conflict that will escalate, openly acknowledge it. You can calmly respond by stating what you believe to be the source of the disagreement. Also, restate what you hear the other person saying. Say you will talk it out if they can tone it down a notch. Clearly outline what you can do, but remain firm on what you can’t so you don’t overextend yourself.
Managing Client Relationships
Mutually beneficial business partnerships keep the revenue flowing. Failing to manage client relationships can quickly leave you dry. Not communicating and ignoring problems are some of the ways you can damage a working relationship.
Instead, be proactive about establishing expectations from the start. Know where you and your client’s boundaries lie. And be willing to renegotiate mutual guidelines and reevaluate the quality of the partnership as it progresses.