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Sales Leadership
May 12, 2010 | Rachel Hayes lock

I’m a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend and colleague – enduring relationships all. I’d submit there are some rules for building enduring connections in all phases of our lives including long-term client relationships. Those rules fall into two groups: respect and passion.

Research shows that a key indicator of a marriage in trouble is eye-rolling by one partner about a comment by the other. Disrespect embodied. Respect begins at the outset of our relationships with our clients and must never flag.  What comprises respect?

  • Honor commitments and time limits. Whether it’s sticking to the allotted time for a meeting or hitting a deadline, honoring agreed upon commitments is a sign of respect.

    Don’t fudge. Don’t blame your assistant or your Blackberry malfunctioning. Don’t overstay your welcome. Observe when your client is tapping a pencil, checking her watch, or starting to stack up his papers. Ever get weary of being the only one of your friends who shows up on time? Then you know what I’m talking about. Time isn’t just money for you, but also for your client.

  • Know how your client likes to do business. Many of us have gone through valuable team-building exercises that revealed the business styles, personality types or decision-making processes of colleagues. We don’t have the benefit of a formal exercise with a client to do this learning, so we must ask and listen to uncover how a client wants to do business.

    Are they email or phone people, do they like lots of detail or the big picture, personal chats as part of doing business or “cutting to the chase”? Don’t guess or assume. And certainly don’t use your preferences as a proxy for your client’s. I have learned, 11 years into my marriage, not to try to have a substantive conversation with my dear husband after 11:00—even if I’m wound up and want to debate the merits of our Governor’s latest ideas right this minute!

  • Care about your client as an individual. Your client is an individual, not his or her title, and respect means being genuinely, authentically interested in that person for whom he or she is.

    With thanks to Nat Slavin of Wicker Park Consulting, here’s an apocryphal anecdote:

    A law firm wined and dined the new general counsel at a long-standing client, treating him to a big steak dinner, cigars and good brandy. Only afterward did the firm partner learn that this GC did not like that kind of evening. Why had they assumed he would? Because that’s what his predecessor liked. So what? So they just got the client thinking, “They don’t really care about me. I certainly don’t owe them my business. I have strong relationships with another firm, maybe I should talk to them.”

    Who doesn’t appreciate it when someone dear to us remembers our aversion to cucumbers or our penchant for great jazz as background music when they have us for dinner? The house painter we use knows I work at home some days and never interrupts me until I break for lunch. It’s one reason we keep hiring and recommending him—he respects me and shows it.

Why don’t we talk more about passion at work? Isn’t it the essence of client service and of building an enduring relationship—with anyone?

  • Don’t hold back. When we are truly enthusiastic about our clients, don’t we do our best work? I genuinely believe that remaining passionate about our clients is critical to building enduring relationships with them.
    We are the most creative, honest and helpful when we bring unbridled energy to our client work.  If you can’t offer that to a client, do you have the right client? Are you the right person from your firm to serve that client, or is there someone who would be a better fit?

  • Curiosity. To do the best by our clients, we must be earnestly curious about their business and their customers as well as about our buyers as individuals. We are all admonished to have “industry knowledge.” But it’s more personal than that.

    Know your client’s business inside and out by spending time at their shop, talking to their clients, learning their environment, and taking in information with your client in mind. Don’t you read the paper or hear the news with a different mindset when you are thinking about your clients?
    I don’t learn a darned thing about my kid’s school by just asking him what goes on there. He says, “Stuff.” Very helpful. I have to plow through the zillion emails from the PTO, show up for the teacher recognition breakfasts, get to know the principal, and then I know what that school is all about. I want to know my clients’ businesses just as well.

  • Desire to serve to help your clients succeed. The goal is to help your client succeed. Clients may come to you to solve a problem, but their ultimate goal is not to solve business problems—it’s to build a successful business.

    Remember you are there to get obstacles out of their way. When your goal shifts to selling more work, you have lost the desire to help the client succeed and shifted focus to your own success. Be passionate and earn new work. Put your client’s success first and yours will follow.

Respect and passion—pillars of enduring relationships in our personal lives and most certainly in our professional lives.  While we and our clients are trying to earn a buck, let’s remember what’s really important in our world of professional services.

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