By Matt Doyle, co-founder and VP of Excel Builders
Many businesses are currently cutting down or even ceasing their operations for a limited time. This can be a frustrating time for entrepreneurs with big plans, but there is some work you can keep doing even if your doors aren't open. Now is the time to focus on client relationships.
I have some experience with this already. As someone in the custom home building industry, I often have to work with leads for weeks or even months before contracts are signed. From that experience, I've picked up ideas to help you develop relationships even when a project is pushed to several months in the future.
Though your operations may be shut down for the short term, you can't stop building relationships with current clients or seeking out relationships with new ones. Here are three steps that you can take today.
1. Start with an audit of your past conversations.
Now is a great time to audit the ways you do things. A good place to start is the history of messages between you and your clients. Go through all of your old emails and take a serious look at how you've presented yourself so far.
- Are you setting the right tone from the beginning?
- Do you seem knowledgeable?
- Did you respond in a timely manner?
If you don't like what you find, start developing a new client communication policy that you can use and pass on to your employees. Set standards for metrics such as how long a client waits for a reply so you can measure whether you're improving.
If you're satisfied with how you've communicated, use what you've learned from your past messages to get a sense of each client's priorities. When you understand that, you're ready to send out the first message.
2. Reach out (without a pitch).
Whether it's because of a personal emergency or a societal one, prospective clients can fall out of communication. This doesn't always mean you're being intentionally ignored or even that they aren't interested -- just that their priorities have been reshuffled.
You won't cross a line by sending one follow-up message, but it should be the right kind of message. Now is not the time to put any pressure on clients to make decisions. All you want to do with the first message is to learn more about their situation and offer your help.
In some cases, they may be unwilling to engage. That's fine. Respect their decision, and don't pester them with more emails. Some of the clients you contact will be ready to share their situations, and they may have ideas for how a smaller, later, or more accommodating project would still be possible.
The clients who are happy to give you these answers deserve your attention. Now that you know they have a pathway to yes, you can start considering the costs.
These clients may represent your only reliable business for a while. Think carefully about what accommodations you're willing to make.
3. Think seriously about what accommodations are worth to you.
In the home construction business, a lot of decisions are on a project-by-project basis. Every project has to be custom to some extent, and that can make it easier to find ways to tailor a project to a client.
In business, accommodating each client can get really complicated, really quickly. That's why it's important to plan ahead when it comes to making accommodations for the current moment. If you get the same feedback from a lot of clients, you can implement accommodations across the board to keep things simple.
Depending on the client, it may be valuable for you to consider cutting some costs on your end. If you can come to an agreement, you can commit to a project before your team is fully back in place. That way, you can keep your business moving.
Value the clients who are willing to work with you.
Using these three steps, you can keep building relationships with clients and even keep projects moving toward an end goal while many operations are shut down. Assess how you've talked to them already. Then reach out in a friendly way, and be open to the idea that creative solutions may be necessary.