Salespeople are always looking for the “ideal” account — one for which they have a product or service that meets the client’s needs, that is highly profitable and, especially, long-term in nature. While it’s obvious that cultivating relationships matters in developing accounts like this, once achieved, they are sometimes taken for granted. That’s a big mistake.
Every relationship requires constant monitoring and consideration to make sure the needs of both parties are addressed as they inevitably evolve. This is true in personal relationships and it’s equally true in business.
One reason relationships fail or deteriorate over time is a lapse in communication by both parties. Even your most satisfied clients may not raise important issues or concerns because they become complacent or don’t want to “rock the boat.” Although you may assume that their silence means they won’t consider competitive alternatives, the truth is that it may not take much to move some to consider other options in our highly competitive business environment.
So what can you do? Simple: Consistently keep the lines of communication open by soliciting feedback to improve your relationship. It might sound something like this:
You: I want to start our annual review discussion by thanking you and your company for your business. Our relationship goes back 10 years now. That means a lot to us.
Client: Well, you folks always do a great job for us. We’re very satisfied with your products and services.
You: We really appreciate that. But we also realize no one’s perfect. Can you tell us how we can improve? Ideally, what would you like to see us do better?
Client: Well, I don’t want to sound like a nitpicker, but sometimes — not often — your billing statements have minor errors that prevent us from accurately allocating costs to the right department. It’s really not a big deal, but if we could get that corrected, it would save us some aggravation. Again, not really a big issue, but since you asked, I thought I’d mention it.
You: The fact that you raised this issue makes it really important to us. I’m not an expert on our billing practices but I will find out who handles this and make sure we properly address it. Can you tell me who in your organization we should contact about this?
Client: That would be terrific. I’ll send you the information.
You: Great. Are there other areas where we can improve?
This is just one possible example. It’s important to be relentless with this type of customer service. Keep probing, keep asking questions to find out where you can improve. It will not only help in the context of specific client accounts, but it also can help in other areas as well.
These client “success stories” can be communicated not only within your organization, but also with prospects or other customers to demonstrate and prove your “client-centric” corporate culture.
Yes, most companies do ask for feedback, often in the form of anonymous surveys. These can be really useful, but it’s a different thing altogether when you engage your client on a face-to-face basis. It shows genuine concern, commitment and accountability.
Some may ask what happens if the client raises issues or concerns that can’t be resolved? Very simple: Just be honest. Explain as thoroughly as possible what you can and cannot do (while, of course, always striving to make changes for the better).
No relationship will ever be perfect. Your job is to make sure that your customers realize that on balance, the value and benefits you and your company bring to the relationship exceed any negatives. By consistently soliciting their feedback — and acting upon it — you are giving your clients a lot of reasons to continue doing business with you.