The client chase just got more interesting. In a world of changing priorities, changes in government regulations and musical chairs’ change at the top, our search for client loyalty appears to be shifting once again. Are loyal clients an endangered species? A training program I developed two years ago, “The Paradigm Shift is Selling Professional Services”, was a harbinger for these changes.Now this reality is sinking in for most firms. This is no longer a surprise attack. It can’t all be tied to improving economic conditions or social media. It happens at most firms due to lack of comprehensive planning. Firms with a “we have always done it this way” approach to business development and marketing are finding a shrinking client base and more difficulty in acquiring new business. In other words, they are taking the “I want to be forgettable” approach to client acquisition. Top of mind means you are unforgettable in the clients’ thinking. How do you get there?
What do business development professionals need today to navigate the swamp that is the marketplace? What role does the firm play in creating a navigation process that leads to success?
First, is your social media and web content acting like a magnet to attract clients? Firing a shotgun out of a window is a difficult way to hunt tigers. There is a lot of sound and fury, but no results. Every hunter will tell you that it is always better to have the prey come towards you rather than trying to track it down in its territory. The prey can play too many tricks when it stays within its comfort zone. There is always a sweet spot when it comes to client acquisition. Understanding the sweet spot of every client is a good start. It is only a start.It is one thing to get a prospective client out of its comfort zone but another altogether to get your firm out of its comfort zone when the hunt is on. There are too many variables and behavior patterns that can cause us to chase the wrong client at the right time and the right client at the wrong time. It can be about money, prestige, favors and so on. “Our most loyal client just fired us,” was the tagline for an airline ad a few years ago. The ad went on to show the CEO sending his top executives out on the road to show clients they cared about them. Has your firm ever been in this position?
Expanding your comfort zone during the hunt requires the following:1. Absolute focus on why this opportunity makes sense for the firm both short term and long term.
2. Although fee is a consideration, the decision can’t be just about fee. Chasing a client solely for revenue doesn’t build enduring relationships, remarkable work or outstanding companies.3. What will the experience be like, if the client hires you for this project? Is there team chemistry? What is the client’s performance history on other projects or with other firms? Do you share the client’s vision or do you even know what the client’s vision is?
4. Can your team have fun and laugh with this client?5. Risk and reward considerations. What resources will be needed? Do you have these in-house now or will you need to expand your services?
If management keeps saying, “show me the money,” your firm is not coming out of its comfort zone.Client loyalty is a two-way street. It is like respect, it has to be earned. You can’t expect a client to be loyal, if you haven’t shown loyalty yourself. If you haven’t gone the extra mile in servicing the client. With that being said, you can’t expect a quid pro quo just because you have serviced the client.
When I headed up the national business development for an engineering/architecture firm, the CEO at a corporate quality meeting responded to a question about recognizing employees for superior quality this way, “ Their recognition is their paycheck.” Firms and project teams that believe providing good service is enough to ensure client loyalty are treading on thin ice in today’s market reality. Loyalty then is in the eyes of the beholder.Every industry is under attack from healthcare to corporate facilities to higher education and everywhere in between. Client competitors seeking to expand their operations and start ups looking to create new opportunities which might make your client’s products obsolete, all put pressure on our clients and their loyalty to our teams. Throw in government regulations that impact the bottom line and client loyalty is tested even more. You need to look inside the industry dynamics your clients are facing and help them develop strategies for strengthening their positions. A trusted advisor is not easily kicked out of the boardroom.
Always remember, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are probably on the menu. Every firm should take their business development and marketing staff through the proven steps toward improving client loyalty. And, then don’t put baggage in their way as they move your existing clients into the client advocate categories. Every CEO would agree that the world would be a better place if all their clients were client advocates. There is no magic wand or secret formula for securing client loyalty. It is a mind set and attitude that pervades the organization from the top down.