Forever friends?

Do you treat your clients like your best friend? Maugie Lyons, head of commercial operations, Royal Horticultural Halls, explains

What makes a good friend? To me, a good friend is someone I can rely on to always be there for me, to listen and tell me the truth, and is someone I enjoy doing things with. Some of my closest friends are those I’ve had since I was very young, whilst others came along later in my life. It doesn’t matter how often or how little we communicate, we will always be friends… I am going somewhere with this so bear with me. There is also the other type of friend; those who move from acquaintance to friend and back to acquaintance. As people’s lives get busier, they forget to phone, neglect to respond and fall off the friendship radar. There’s only so much time you can put into one-sided communication.

And it’s not so different with clients and prospects. Getting prospects to commit to hiring you, and then keeping them as clients, requires the same relationship-building skills you use to make and maintain friendships. If you’re a good, honest, committed organisation, which is communicative and perceptive, one that clients rely on not only for the service or product you provide, but for advice, ideas and assistance, they will be less likely to jump ship. Always be there, but don’t only be there to sell. If you give your prospect the impression that the only thing that is important to you is making the sale, you’ll lose it in a heartbeat. Make it all about them (even when it’s about you). You need to be stable, solid and ready to provide help – within limits, naturally – to prove that you have their best interests in mind.

Business relationships, like personal ones, should be viewed with the long-term in mind. Create loyalty by staying in touch with your client; shoot off a succinct email with a titbit of information you recently discovered, forward opportunities that you hear about, invite them to networking events that they would benefit from and keep them in the loop about changes that may affect their organisation.

Consolidating relationships is key to running a successful business and it shouldn’t stop at the client, but should be carried through to staff, colleagues and suppliers. And it’s not about Martini lunches and days at the races. It’s about project management. Schedule calls, identify criticalities, reconcile differences, set agreements and pay attention. It helps to remember relationship management is not rocket science – but it’s not an accident either.