There are just not enough hours in the day to hustle through client work and also build relationships with prospects. It is easy to neglect one group or the other. But what if both groups were the same, client and prospects? There is so much potential for repeat business and long-term engagements!
Dan Englander, author of Mastering Account Management and The B2B Sales Blueprint, digs into how to manage your client accounts so you can build longterm relationships with your clients. Dan explains how you can build mutual understanding with your client, how to figure out your client pains, how to keep the client from going quiet, and how to decide who to work with.
Dan shares with us:
What if you don't have to experience the feast and famine cycle every couple of months? Well, what causes the feast and famine cycle?
As a freelancer, you are expected to pursue new clients and opportunities, while also completing the project work from your current clients. How much time in the day do you actually have? Often, it doesn't feel like there is enough time for both prospects and clients. Dan certainly felt that stress. So his solution was to turn to his current clients, who he had already built a strong relationship with, as the source of his future project work.
Dan focused in on account management.
Dan considers his clients his partners and friends. He puts in a lot of work to build up trust and understanding with the client. So it can be awkward to go back to his clients and say, “Hey, can you open up your wallet again for me?”
It can be less awkward if you know that you can actually help them with something. Which means that you have to spend the time figuring out what sort of pains that they have. You cant sell a solution if you don't know what the challengers are that they are going through.
Say you are a website developer, like Matt. Here are some questions you can ask your client:
How do you plan on using this site that I made for you in a year from now? What else is accompanying this effort?
Bam, a wealth of ways you can help your client, your friend, make the most out of the product that you made for them. You can up-sell them to the next step in the project that would make it that much better. Or, you can offer smaller, lower commitment solutions that solve smaller pains. Basically, keep building the gratitude.
But, wait, what if the client doesn't buy again from you. You've failed and it's over. Adios. No! Don't consider the relationship just zero-sum.
There are other ways to keep the client involved and keep yourself involved in the client's business. You can do case studies for them to see how well the solution is working and how competitors are doing things better or worse. You can also get testimonials from them to help you out finding your next client.
Sounds great! But how can you do this on the ground?
Step 1: Know who you are working with.
Know who is involved on the client side for making decisions. Who is accountable to whom, especially in larger companies? What are each person's fears, challenges, desires? For someone who is an employee in the business, they are taking a risk in hiring a freelancer. A big concern for an employee is “Are you going to get me fired?” Once you build up the trust, they see you as a safe bet and will be more likely to work with you in the future.
Assign someone in your client's business to be the point person who will communicate with you. This person can consolidate all of the client's material during projects so there is a lot less back and forth. This person becomes your colleague, the person who fights for you to the other team members. And you equally fight for their needs on your side, at least to reasonable lengths.
You can give your client reasonable control over some aspects of the project, such as the ultimate business goals. But it has to be reasonable. You can't let the client dictate every detail or it will be a disaster. You are the expert, so you know the best way to implement your processes.
It's like building a house. You aren't going to hire a contractor and then tell them how to build the foundation or change the foundation after the roof is on. How much do you actually know about building a house if you have never done it? You trust the contractor. Just as your client needs to trust you.
Step 2: Build mutual understanding with you client.
You need to be able to communicate with your client. Especially at the beginning when you set the expectations that part of the process is ongoing opportunities and building a relationship. There are also practical expectations to set up. Drive the point home that if they want to get the results they want, then they have to be responsive and give you the stuff you need to make your best work.
Communication also means that you have to be available for your client, and be responsive. That doesn't mean having your email open and your phone attached to your ear 24/7. It doesn't mean answering in under five minutes or your money back. How is that realistic?
These types of project expectations on work philosophy should be easily available to your clients. You should put your expectations everyone, on the website, on the phone, in emails, everywhere! You don't want to think that you made something clear, but that your client got something completely different out of it.
Expectations also include the money side of things. When will you get paid? How is payment done?
Communication is also critical at the end of the project when you are wrapping up in a debriefing call, your opportunity to sell other ways to get the best result from what you have created for them. But, is the client happy with what you produced? Do they want to continue working with you? Super awkward if you start selling the next project, but you don't know where you stand from the current project.
Step 3: Make it easy for your client.
There is a lot of admin work when you start a new business relationship. First, you have to convince everyone on the client team that you are the right choice. Then you have to set up all the payroll accounts and payment expectations.
For example, sometimes, the client doesn't even know the final cost of the project until the very end. Surprise! Yikes! Take away the fear, and give the total price at the beginning. Build in a cushion initially so there isn't a surprise at the end. And if you have a set project price, no one has to worry about the amount of hours you work or being nickled and dimed over every feature.
It doesn't require much change on your end to make things easier for your client. They will appreciate your effort.
Now that you are working with repeat clients, are you still overwhelmed with client work? Do you have too many clients? You really don't need more than 5-10 clients as a single person operation. Too many is hard to manage and you won't be able to give everyone equal energy. So you have to decide who to put the time into.
Here are some guidelines:
- Work with the clients that you are most uniquely positioned to solve problems for and can help better than your competitors or in-house people.
- Another way to look at it: are you willing to hire a highly successful designer and copywriter to design a webpage promoting the work you did for you client on your won website? No? Then maybe this client isn't going to be the portfolio piece that you should put your time into.
- Work with the clients who are the most frictionless. When you talk to these clients about your ideas and how you can help them and they just get it, you don't have to send them a mountain of educational materials to get your philosophy, then these are the ones you should stick with.
- Can you see ways to continue to grow with the client? Is the client's business viable or is it in a dying industry and that particular client isn't willing to innovate?
Ready to start engaging with your current clients? Check out the resources section to learn more about how to win and grow longterm accounts.
- Mastering Account Management by Dan Englander
- The Million Dollar Account Manager
- The B2B Sales Blueprint: A Hands-On Guide to Generating More Leads, Closing More Deals, and Working Less by Dan Englander
- The Account Managers Playbook
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