Client relationships are the glue, magic, and sometimes the safety net of every account. If you’re unable to build rapport with a client, then it’ll be that much harder keeping them on board.
Coming from a heavy sales driven ad agency to an inbound agency, there are a few things I’ve learned along the way. Ultimately, I've realized most people are either prepping for calls wrong or simply aren’t comfortable on the phone. With these 5 tips, your client relationships will improve and likely see your retention increase.
1) Smile through the phone
Pretty cliché, I know, but this is crucial. The moment you get on a call with a client, he or she will be able to read your tone and use that to determine how to respond. Regardless of how your day is going or if it’s 4:45 on a Friday, your emotions carry over to the other line. Your call is going to be much better if you’re able to set aside all negative emotions and speak with your client in a positive manner.
I mean, how can you be rude to a person like this? It's impossible.
Are you nervous about picking up the phone to begin with? Convince yourself that you’re just calling a family member. Start off the call with a friendly tone by using their name and ask how everything has been going since the last conversation. Throw in something from the last call so you come off like you’re a good listener. Keep it simple and light. Don't just jump right into the topic of conversation like a robot!
"Hey Sarah, how everything been going since we last spoke? Did you happen to tackle that project you were talking about last time?"
This can be a slippery slope though, as some people either ramble about their day for too long or they decided to wear their grumpy-pants this morning. Just be natural, go with the flow of conversation, and make sure you're upbeat.
2) Speak as if your client is your friend
I have a habit of letting the word “man” slip once.. twice.. or sixty five times during a call. I don't suggest you should pick up the remarkable grammar, but I’ve become so comfortable talking with clients - whether it’s my first time chatting or the 100th time - that I revert to unpolished banter. Many clients like to feel like they’re talking to a friend and not just some individual they have a call with every month. If you mimic the speech patterns of your client, you can always find the comfort zone.
As anyone knows in marketing, performance can be seasonal. I’ve seen accounts leave due to a poor relationship even if the results are strong. If you have that bond, a poor performance can be forgiven and a good performance made even better. If the client feels like a number in your client portfolio - or vice versa – the account is in danger. It’s harder to break up with a friend than an acquaintance.
3) Don’t Puke.
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Salespeople have a poor reputation because they ramble on.. and on.. and on.. about a product or offering before knowing if the person on the other end is even a candidate.
Instead of talking 90% of the time, take a seat and open it up to your client. Believe it or not, research has shown that our brains like talking about ourselves. Stop blabbering and ask your clients about their problem, their company, their month, etc. Then, actively listen to their answers. This strengthens the relationship because they can elaborate on the problem. The more information you gather, the easier the problem is to fix.
4) Stop trying to sell something and just help.
Something crazy happened once I realized I became more successful by trying to “sell” less and “help” more. This goes back to my earlier point – treating someone as a friend. When was the last time you called up your friend to sell them your new marketing platform? Probably never.
Back in college I had a sales course where I became certified in SPIN Selling. If you’re not familiar, I highly recommend looking it up. The main structure of the technique is to focus less about the selling of a product and more about helping solve your client’s root problems. When I started implementing this in my client interactions, life became easier.
Here's what I remember:
(1) Ask questions to learn more about the situation.
(2) Discover the pain points & problems.
(3) Make your client cry about the problem and realize they need help.
(4) Alleviate the problem with a solution.
Think about your previous doctor’s visit. It’s a pretty similar path, right?
Most sales people latch on to the first problem the client gives. The issue is that you didn't ask enough questions to find out more. Even if I said my neck hurt, a doctor wouldn't recommend surgery right away. Don’t be on a mission to sell your product only. Instead, ask more questions and actively listen to what the client is saying. If you are able to find the real root of the problem and provide a remedy, it’s hard to be rejected.
5) Take Notes, Regurgitate, and Follow Up
Even if your call goes well, you’re not done with the process. You're setting yourself up for failure if you don't organize your notes, recap your notes clearly, or even follow up with the client about the call.
Take notes: Always take notes during your call or at least immediately after your call. Most people have a memory that escapes them over time regardless how often you've considered it a steel trap. It’ll not only help you to collect your thoughts, but can be used in preparation of your next call.
Regurgitate: Make sure you take the notes and type it out so anyone who looks at your notes can understand what you’re writing down. If you have to refer back to your notes from 6-months ago, would you be able to decipher them? Go through your notes and elaborate when needed. You no longer have the client on the phone, so take your time and be descriptive.
Follow up: Once you’re done with the outline, be sure to send an email to the client recapping the conversation. This will help keep you on the same page with the client, and be your saving grace if your client asks something out of scope. The meeting recap email can be your best friend in keeping organized.
If you stay consistent with this final process, every call will be recapped with precision, and allow your organization to do your work for you.