Jennifer D., the owner of a small, 10-year old management consulting company in New York City, knows the challenges of fizzling relationships with clients, vendors and investors all too well. She spent two years courting a small newspaper company and three years working with the firm—then, earlier this year, under mounting debt, the owner was forced to sell out to a larger operation.
Relationship building is incredibly important for small business owners and entrepreneurs. But the economic downturn has made it much harder to maintain connections when key contacts are forced to leave the companies. It's a problem that won't be going away soon--downsizings and restructurings are likely to continue over the next year. What do you do to ride out these relationship changes?
The truth is, if you are a business owner, your strongest relationships can take years to evolve. The sales cycle per client will vary depending on your industry, but you can expect that the larger or longer the commitment from a potential customer or client, the longer the sales cycle will be. From the startup phase of your business all the way through to later stages of its development, you will find that even one-time customers often need a couple weeks or even months to make even small commitments.
What are some ways to set up client relationships so you are prepared for in case your key contacts disappear?
Assume everyone is reluctant to sales. Anyone that runs a business knows that someone initially reluctant to accept the value proposition your company offers or other objections will need extra attention and extra convincing as you lead them through the sales process. To counteract this, you will need to repeat the benefits of working with the client company regularly and pay attention to personalized details so you can build trust lay the foundation for a solid relationship. Focus on how your products or services can help each of them do better business all around and not only on low prices or any other financial benefits you might provide.
Anticipate major questions. Something that will really set you apart from other competitors that might be offering similar products or services in your marketplace will be your ability to understand the questions that clients and investors might have. The answers you provide to questions and concerns from clients and investors can make or break your biggest relationships, so you have to be ready. In my experience talking with small business owners and critiquing their marketing and relationship-building methods, a majority of them focus too much on presenting and marketing their own products and services in a way that will make them sound “better than” or “cheaper than” their competitors. What they should be doing is actually designing their services around the needs of their clients and answering important questions they have about your business and their investments. You don’t have to be psychic to do this. Well-timed, regular surveys delivered at different points in the sales cycle can help you not only understand how you are doing but also shape your services so they can be more marketable.
Use highly-personalized follow-up methods. Follow up regularly – without being obnoxious –via phone or e-mail and make a point of scheduling coffees and lunches to check in personally. Connect not only with your main contact there, but others as well. Planned, personalized interactions will help set you apart from your competitors and will extend your reach beyond your main site contact so that if that person disappears, you will still have a solid reputation. Pay attention to each of your clients’, investors’ and vendors’ favorite follow-up methods and use what makes each of them feel special and comfortable. For example, some of your customers and clients might be so busy during the day that they feel stressed out by having to take time out to talk to you over the phone, but they might really appreciate an e-mail or even a personalized check-in card sent via snail mail. Pay attention to your potential clients’ and clients’ major awards and accomplishments as well as their day-to-day business and make sure to congratulate them on their successes at appropriate times. The experts at
FollowUpSuccess.com also emphasize that having an organized plan for all your personalized follow-up methods is absolutely essential.
A recession makes building solid relationships with clients even more critical to your business because the landscape can change so quickly as budgets shrink and your clients’ companies need to make tough restructuring decisions sometimes very quickly. You need to set up a solid reputation for your company and your business and maintain personalized connections that extend far beyond your main contact at each company site.