By Maria Thimothy, Sr. Consultant at OneIMS, helps businesses grow by creating and capturing demand and managing and nurturing relationships.
Relationships are complicated. How many times have we heard that sentence or even believed it or experienced it to be true? Businesses, however, are often under the misconception that business relationships are simple, transactional, and black and white.
If your goal is not only to establish transactional connections with clients but actually also to foster and develop them into long-term mutually beneficial business relationships, then you have to actively build them. Since not all clients have the same needs, it is up to us to find a way to tailor our approach and ensure that we serve our client’s primary and secondary needs, and even some needs they don’t know they have.
Learn: Study Your Client
The first step in establishing any long-lasting relationship is to learn about your potential new partner. You cannot build good business ties unless you really find out how your clients and their businesses operate. This is especially important in the digital marketing industry, where we work with a wide range of clients from many different business backgrounds, and two are seldom alike.
It is important to dig deep to understand the market within which your client is trying to compete and do research to find out more about competitors as well as the industry at large. This way, from the start, you can approach them from a place of knowledge. On top of this, however, you also need to get to know your individual client and their business model, practices, and short- and long-term goals.
You may find that they come to you for marketing advice, but they have no idea who their competition is or they’re unaware that their operational systems are actually holding them back from taking their business to the next level. This brings us to our second point.
Educate: Give Relevant Advice
Although some of the advice you give may not fall into your remit, the reason they hired you to begin with is that you have studied their background, so you will be able to go above and beyond your role to really deliver tailored guidance and services. In fact, you may find that some of the advice you give will not directly benefit your business in terms of profitability.
For example, if you highlight to them that their legacy systems are in desperate need of an upgrade, you may have to refer them to a third-party business to help them improve their IT infrastructure. While this clearly does not impact your bottom line directly, it will impact your clients and therefore yours indirectly. The more successful the business overall, the better their chances of survival, and the more likely the chances are for a long-term relationship with you.
Furthermore, your client will see that your advice and interest in the success of their business is not simply narrowed down to how you can make money by offering a service to them, but rather that the service you provide is all about looking at the bigger picture to help improve profitability for all. In this way, you will become a trusted advisor known for giving reliable advice in the best interest of your client, and the next time they have a problem or question, they will be more likely to turn to you for feedback, rather than others who do not really listen and are only looking out for themselves.
Keep Some Things To Yourself
“Know your audience” is very useful advice. While it is important to know your client and their business well and provide well-rounded advice, you also want to avoid going too far in this direction and overstepping your remit. Whether you are doing your research and getting to know your client or you have been working together for a while now, you may come across issues that you think need fixing. However, if this list becomes too long, it can be tricky to determine what you should communicate to your client and what you should keep to yourself.
You want to avoid providing too many “fixes” that can come across as “hard sells,” especially if they require a large upfront monetary investment from your client. When you are confronted by this conundrum, be conservative in your advice, and err on the side of caution. Float a few ideas for changes or upgrades, and see how the client responds. Listen to their requirements, and based on this feedback, give a few (three maximum) pieces of advice and keep the rest to yourself. This way, you avoid overwhelming your client. Once they have had time to think and respond, you can always further develop or provide more advice from there.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Remember that getting to know your client should always be a give and take. You want to keep the lines of communication open between yourself and your clients. Always listen and ask for feedback, but don’t be afraid to provide pertinent and pithy advice even if unsolicited.
Giving your honest advice about what may need improving in your client’s business will generally be seen as a sign of goodwill and will help build rapport and trust. It is true that sometimes the advice you give will not be directly beneficial to you; however, it will help strengthen your client relationship in the long term, which is always beneficial to all parties involved.