I'm often struck by the similarities between professional and personal relationships. In fact, I believe most of the fundamental strategies and tactics used in wooing a "significant other" hold true when one is in search of that next big customer. At the same time, maintaining a relationship with a significant other (or an important client) demands the same intellectual rigor one extends to the thrill of landing Mrs. Right (or Mr. Right, if you prefer).
Here's a list of strategies I use to ensure my long-standing client relationships never grow old:
1. I send clients a "thank you for your business" note on each and every anniversary of the signing of our very first contract.
2. I share breaking news on competitors. Nothing, and I mean nothing, motivates a chief executive officer more than beating her competition to the punch. One of the best ways to make your direct client report look good is by arming him with competitive news before the CEO knows about it. He, in turn, can then present it to the CEO and look smart (and strategic) in the process.
3. I periodically ask customers what "non-public relations" business issues are keeping them up at night. I want them to know I care about their entire job universe and, with a little insight, just might be able to help find a new partner to ease some of their non-PR pain.
4. I ask if I can shadow a client (or his sales force) for a day. Nothing delights a customer more than an outside partner's willingness to invest time in learning more about the business of their business. Sometimes, nothing comes out of it. Other times, I've been able to uncover subtle nuances that enable me to tweak the public relations program in order to make it even more effective. Regardless, the client always appreciates the extra time and effort invested.
5. I take time to periodically ask myself the following question, "What can I do to make my client look like a hero to his chief executive officer?" Again, sometimes I draw a blank. Other times, I come up with "Have you ever thought of doing such and such…" questions that show the client I'm really thinking about him and his career.
6. I put myself in my client's customers' shoes and experience the brand from the outside in. This is a game changer and never ceases to amaze a client. So, sometimes I:
I then report my findings as well as any suggestions for improvement. I've yet to meet a client of longstanding who doesn't appreciate the sweat equity involved in performing any of the above.
7. I hold periodic, internal account audits in which I invite employees who are not working on the client's business to review what we're doing and suggest alternative approaches. Once again, I sometimes uncover pearls and other times turn up nothing at all. But, I always make sure the client knows we're investing additional time in thinking through creative solutions to his marketing challenges.
There are many other ways to remind a client of long-standing how important he or she is to your business. But, I've never been one to send a dozen long-stem roses, tickets to The Book of Mormon or box seats for a Knicks game. To me, that smacks more of old school client romancing and, frankly, turns my stomach.
It's been said many times and in many ways that it's much less expensive to maintain a current client relationship than go in search of a new one. Client turnover, like death and taxes, is inevitable. But, there's a reason why we have seven or eight significant clients with whom we've partnered for 10 of my firm's 16 years of business. And, the list I've provided above is a good starting point.