These tips will help you build longstanding relationships that can withstand the good times as well as the bad.
So much work goes into winning new business, regardless of the vertical space in which you work; there is the initial prospecting, early conversations, strategic program development, budget consideration, and creation of a deliverables timeline. Unfortunately, all of that work can come to a screeching halt before the ink is dry on the contract when the same amount of time, energy and commitment isn't placed on managing the client's expectations after the business is won.
To ensure this is never overlooked, we developed the Super Six: keys to developing excellent client expectations and building longstanding relationships that can withstand good times as well as bumps in the road. After all, it's easy to keep a client when things are going well; maintaining a client when times are tough is the true test of a relationship. We believe the Super Six will aid in this process:
1. Build a relationship that goes beyond client/vendor
I have long maintained that business people like working with people they not only respect, but also personally like. Therefore, we believe that developing a personal relationship goes a long way in building a stronger business relationship. Get to know the client's family situation, how they spend their free time, where their interests lie and, most importantly, what motivates them on a daily basis. When you understand what makes them tick as a person, you can translate that into your business relationship.
2. Regularly communicate and address problems directly
A lack of communication is usually at the root of most problems associated with clients. Any good client relationship will be able to weather setbacks if you are proactive in communicating both good and bad news. When communication is direct and transparent, trust forms and helps to create a foundation for long-lasting relationships.
3. Agree on strategy, goals and timelines
Until you and your client agree on strategy, goals and timelines, you are always at risk of them not understanding what success is and how it should be measured. We always suggest creating a scope-of-work document that outlines the program details, budgets and metrics. This will alleviate any confusion over expectations and hopefully eliminate a difficult conversation.
4. Be a counselor
When you offer your client advice, direction, input and business counsel, you become a truly valuable partner. This style of open dialogue helps to establish the respect necessary to ensure better project management. Clients hire outsourced marketing services because they want an objective opinion. If you fail at giving that POV, you subject yourself to being a "yes man or woman," which will ultimately be your undoing.
5. Be a good listener
Listening is one of the most misunderstood and least used tools in managing client expectations. Many clients are unsure of what they are trying to accomplish or not very good at articulating it. As such, you must have excellent intuition and listening skills in order to identify key messages being communicated. One of the best ways to compensate for a client who communicates poorly is to repeat what you have heard and ask them to confirm the accuracy of key takeaways, which will ultimately impact expectations.
6. Budget is not a bad word
Most relationships will go south very quickly if you are not open and honest about budgets. To start, you must be realistic about setting a clear understanding of the budget required to execute the desired program. Throughout the course of the program, you must have regular dialogue about budgets. If you don't address the client until you have an issue (i.e., operating over budget), you will not only have an unhappy client, you may also find yourself eating the overages.
At the end of the day, your ability to manage client expectations is going to hinge on how well you choose to communicate. If you leave things up to chance, chances are you and your client will both be disappointed. However, if you take the time to listen, be proactive about communicating openly and address any issues head-on, you will keep client expectations in check and be in a good position to grow your relationship over time.
MICHAEL A. OLGUIN is the president of Formula PR, a national public relations boutique with offices in New York, Los Angeles and San Diego. With over 25 years of experience, he has represented such high-profile brands as Newcastle, Kashi, and ESPN. @FormulaPR