Your clients are your business — so a key part of being successful is cultivating a healthy relationship with them. This list will help guide you as you develop and maintain the relationships that will allow your business to thrive.
One thing is true for all consultants: If we have any work, we have clients. And one of our most important roles is to maintain and enhance our relationship with them. Preserving those relationships can be good for referrals and future business, as well as making the time spent on the project more enjoyable and satisfying. Here are some suggestions to help you foster those important business relationships.Note: This information is also available as a PDF download.
#1: Have a clear contract with your client
It's critical to have a clear understanding up front with your client about what your role is and isn't. You and your client should know when the project will be over and how you will measure success. Having a clear contract improves your relationship automatically. The better the client understands your role, the better they'll feel about the relationship.
#2: Get to know your client better
All relationships are better when the individuals in the relationship take the time to know one another. Learn the client's interests. You will likely spend many hours with the client during the project. The fact that they like gourmet French food, exotic candies, or Oakland Raiders football is information you should know. Think about how you would like to be treated and then reciprocate.
#3: Ask more questions
When we ask questions, we understand situations better. Make the time to ask your client how they feel and how they think, and let them share their observations regarding the progress of the project and your performance.
#4: Be willing to say no
In many cases, clients ask us to do things beyond our capabilities or interests. When these new requests are outside the contract agreement, don't be afraid to say, "I'm just not qualified to perform this service." Take time to understand both the client's reason for asking as well as your ability to deliver. Don't automatically say yes just because "The customer is always right."
#5: Be willing to say yes
After weighing the opportunity the client offers you, say yes to the jobs that are within your capability but will require you to work a little harder than usual. The client will be grateful. The more work you do on the client's behalf, the more valuable you become. You know the systems, the people, and the culture. Saying yes often makes the client's job much easier.
#6: Be a problem solver
Clients hire us to help them solve problems. The more problems we can help them solve, the better. This is almost the opposite of number four. Sometimes our activities allow us to see things that can be helpful to the client. Weigh these opportunities, and when appropriate, help (or offer to help) the client solve the problem — even if they didn't know the problem existed.
#7: Keep your distance
Therapists say you can't help the family if you are part of the family. This is true for us as consultants as well. We do become more valuable the more we work in an organization, but we need to keep our role clearly defined. Even as we build the relationships that make us successful, we need to be diligent in keeping our distance so we can continue to provide valued advice and expertise.
#8: Stay focused
Staying focused on your contract and on your deliverables is the best thing you can do to maintain and build your client relationship. When we deliver what we say when we say we will deliver it, we build our credibility and enhance our relationships.
#9: Be a learner
Being a learner means being open to new approaches and approaching each project with fresh eyes. Few things will turn off the client more than if you immediately snap to a solution, assuming that their situation is "just like" five others you have seen. There are always nuances that will make a difference. Take the time to inquire about them and integrate them into your solution.
#10: Work at it
Recognize that the client relationship is part of the job. Working on the relationship will make you more successful in the current project, enhance your chance for future work, and make the project much more enjoyable.
Kevin Eikenberry is president of the Kevin Eikenberry Group, a professional speaking, training and consulting team that provides training design and delivery (both classroom and electronic), performance support development, performance coaching, and organizational development consulting.