It’s October 10, 2008. Your biggest client just lost 20 percent of its value on the stock market crash, and the CMO was given a mandate to cut budget accordingly. What can you do to ensure that you don’t get a phone call that same day slashing your relationship and scope of work?

You can’t. There is no magic conversation or idea that will change that client’s mind. Instead, it is the past days, weeks, and years of commitment to amazing work that will make that client rethink how to keep you onboard as its partner.

As a service business, we are only as successful as our clients perceive us to be. The current environment is tough – you compete with everyone from the huge agency conglomerate to the individual working out of his or her garage. On top of that, retention in the corporate world continues to decline – leaving less time to provide value and develop rapport with each individual at an organization. How can you ensure your clients see you as absolutely invaluable?

  1. Understand what success looks like. We survey our clients every year to understand our performance broadly. Equally as important are the live conversations in which we are able to ask directly how we are doing and what our client is hoping to accomplish.
  2. Know their brands and businesses. Do your research. Understand the company’s historical data. Ask the right questions. Do what it takes to develop a deep knowledge of their industries; their organizations; the hurdles they are facing; the competition’s strategy. If your clients perceive you as on par or even better informed on core brand and business considerations, they’ll need you around.
  3. E-mail is mandatory. Phone calls are nice. In-person meetings are where relationships are won. Customize your communication style and frequency based on your client’s preference, while knowing that in the end, face-to-face time is what matters most.
  4. Get to know them as people. Ask about hobbies; passions; in what their kids excel. Be a great listener. Understand how they make decisions and tailor your service accordingly.
  5. Surprise and delight. Manage expectations and over-deliver when possible. Send a handwritten thank you note. Participate in conferences in their industries and provide an opportunities document based on learnings. Set up alerts and ensure you proactively communicate important happenings they might be too busy to follow.
  6. Attitude rules. Positive attitude, that is. Clients do not want complaints or excuses. There is always a better alternative to “no.”
  7. Be honest. There is a fine balance between a “yes” person and finding the right times and ways to disagree or provide an alternate perspective on things. And some clients are more sensitive than others to hearing counterarguments. But our job as service providers is to add value to our clients and their businesses – often meaning difficult but important conversations. If your client asks for something, be sure to deliver it – and if you have a better idea, deliver both.
  8. Be yourself. Ultimately, you need your client to like you. Find ways to connect with what your client cares about while staying true to who you are.

It is the day-in, day-out pursuit of and commitment to amazing work, strong communication, and meaningful relationships that will ensure your partnership makes it through the next recession.

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