In the end, the best clients are often those who keep coming back to you for more. The subject of long-term business relationships is a huge one that brings in many of the core themes of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Rather than attempting to climb that mountain, this article focuses on how to maintain an objective relationship with a client that you service over an extended period of time.

Take special care with repeat clients
Managed correctly and serviced impeccably, it’s the repeat client who can really help you grow your consulting business. Instead of breaking in new relationships or trying to get beyond the introduction stage with new prospects, you are faced with the challenge of maintaining a level of service to the repeat client that goes beyond the technical or problem-solving skills that your other clients expect from you.

Your relationship with the client will maintain, and hopefully increase, its value if you can show a continued impartiality and an objective viewpoint toward the changing needs of the organization. This may not always be easy, however. Over a period of time, you will inevitably develop personal relationships with theorganization’s staff members. It’s only natural that some ties should grow between you or your staff and the organization when you work together for a period of time, but with careful management these relationships can be a valuable vehicle in strengthening your relationship with the client.

Take stock in the relationship
Take some time to think about how the decision-makers in the client organization perceive you and your value to their organization. If you’ve received repeat business from them so far, there must be some trust in you and your judgment. Is that perception derived from the fair and objective advice and proposal material that you supply to them? If it is, you’re on the way to achieving your goal.

Your existing relationship with the company is your biggest competitive advantage over other competition. Anticipating your client’s needs will keep you one step ahead, but there is always a danger of assuming that you have an equal knowledge of their business, and then planning a solution that doesn’t fit. To avoid this pitfall, ask yourself this question: How did you get the first piece of work for the client? Was it by listening to their problems and then engineering the solution? Then keep doing just that. That way, you take on each project on its own merits, and you have the advantage of knowing, better than your competition, the bigger picture of the client’s long-term strategy.

Listen to client input
As you conduct your business at a growing pace, take time out to remember the design process when proposing a solution. Do you still table a number of ideas and then rationalize these out to refine the final design? This is bound to take more time, but it does help you to take an objective view.

By taking each project as a step down the strategic track, you’ll find that over time there will be detours where your earlier work is questioned. This can be natural. Business needs change, technology changes. But if you can demonstrate that the solutions you’ve provided throughout your history with the organization were both strategic and took the client’s input into consideration, you’ll be at an advantage when the organization considers future consulting needs.

Depending on your working method with your client, you should involve them at different stages in the proposal, implementation, and evaluation stages. You might, after having been left to propose a solution, bring the interested parties together to look at the proposal. Test the proposal yourself with the group by explaining the alternatives you also considered. Also take into account, depending on the regularity of the work carried out for the client, whether scheduled reviews should take place to ensure that business needs are being met by the systems currently in place.

Successful businesses have always grown on building relationships, and in a service industry such as IT consulting, relationships revolve around value and trust. When carefully managed, long-term relationships can be of great benefit to all parties, so practicing the methods of nurturing them is vital for business growth.

David Parkinson lives and works out of the North West United Kingdom as principal consultant for Control Key Ltd. Clients range from a Premiership Football Club to small manufacturing sites.

How do you nurture your relationships with long-term clients, while at the same time keeping an objective distance? To share your thoughts, post a comment or send us a note.