By Matt Doyle, VP and co-founder of Excel Builders.
The end of the year is often a time when contracts are renewed and new projects are budgeted. It's a great time to be thinking about how you're going to convince your clients to sign up with you for another year or for that next project.
I manage large custom building projects, and that means some long-term thinking about ways to retain clients. At my business, I like to start by looking back at the ways I've interacted with a client. Then, I try to build an understanding of how that client may have experienced my services and get ahead of what is most likely to be their biggest complaint.
It's important to never make the mistake of assuming a relationship is good just because you haven't heard any complaints yet. Before you approach your client about signing on again, you should review how things have gone so far and start thinking about how you could do better.
Remember: It's never as hard to keep a client as it is to get a new client who doesn't know or trust you, so preparing to ask a client to re-up is some of the most important work you'll do this year. Here are four ways that you can make sure you're completely prepared for that meeting.
1. Review all of your communications from the past year.
Before meeting with your client to discuss working together for another year or on another project, make sure both of you have the same interpretation of the relationship. One of the ways that you can do this is by carefully reviewing all of your communications since your relationship began.
Create a file with all of your customer interactions -- email, text or private message -- and determine if you were always showing the level of customer care that you intended. Make sure that there are no clear cases of questions that went unanswered or concerns that were never addressed. Look for ways that the client might have been frustrated or misunderstood.
If you find problems, makes notes and save them for later. They may be brought up at the next meeting, and even if they aren't, you can build them into offers of how you can improve your service in the next year.
2. Review all of your efforts from the past year.
Take some time to review all the work you have done for the client over the last year before you ask them to sign up again. Start by looking at your original pitch materials to remind yourself of the expectations that were set from the very beginning. Compare your early promises to what you were able to deliver for the client.
If there are ways that your efforts really stood out, make sure that you record those and save them for later. Also, watch for places where your services have evolved or changed to better meet your client's specific needs. When you propose working together for another year, you will want to change the story of what you're offering to best match the reality. That way, you can better measure success.
3. Develop an idea of how something can be done better.
Now that you have your notes about what might and might not have worked well, you're nearly ready to make a greater proposal for another year of services. Before that, however, you'll want an idea of how you can really improve things for next year. Using the notes that you've taken so far, try to develop (or better explain) a feature that's been missing. That way, when you ask your clients to sign up again, they're getting something fresh and exciting like the first time they signed up.
4. Make a new offer for the same service.
Using everything you've learned, talk to your clients about signing up again. This time, keep them interested by making sure they understand all the ways that their services will get even better next year. In my experience, these pitches are the easiest to deliver of any you will ever give because they are based on a keen awareness of the client and their actual needs. Clients usually love to see that you've been thinking about their needs seriously, which can improve your chances of getting the response you hope for.
Matt Doyle is the VP and co-founder of Excel Builders, a truly unique custom home builder, creating homes that make every day easier.