Recently, one of my clients, Brian, found out the hard way that just because your client has nothing bad to say about your work, that’s no guarantee they’re happy.
Brian had been a successful marketing consultant for years and had built what he thought were strong relationships with several key clients. Those relationships brought him steady, predictable work month-in, month-out.
But two months ago, his biggest client, Bismark Shoes, stopped calling. And he quickly found out that their marketing contracts had gone to another vendor.
Brian was shocked. He had heard nothing negative from Bismark and had no idea what had gone wrong. Even worse, he now worried that, if Bismark could cut him loose with no warning, it could happen with his other clients.
When Brian came to me for help I asked him to describe how his relationship with Bismark had worked. Turns out, he was usually assigned projects by e-mail, sometimes had phone calls to explore what the VP Marketing needed, and after he submitted a draft he sometimes didn’t hear back from the client at all. But he hadn’t really worried about the lack of contact. He figured that the VP was run off her feet, and that minimal discussion was just her communication style. After all, he never heard anything bad, and the work kept rolling in.
Unfortunately I’d seen other clients experience similar problems in the past. In each case the clients had assumed that no news was good news. No entrepreneur likes to hear that the work they have done isn’t up to par. So, if the client quietly accepts the work—the tendency is to assume all is fine.
But it’s dangerous to believe that a lack of negative feedback means that everything is good.
Some clients, even though they’re not getting what they want, are reluctant to confront their vendors. The client says nothing, but the dissatisfaction festers. The vendor carries on as they always have, thinking things are good and never making changes to improve the quality of their work.
In almost every case, the client eventually reaches the end of their rope and turns to another vendor hoping for a better outcome.
The question was, what could Brian do to improve his relationships with other key clients before they walked away as well?
In an attempt to turn things around, Brian took my advice and implemented a simple three-step process for improving his relationship with Abigail Foods, a big client he felt was also at risk.
The first step in creating deeper relationships is to continuously solicit constructive criticism or even negative feedback to make sure you’re providing what the client needs.
For Brian, this meant setting up regular skype calls with his contact at Abigail Foods to review his most recent work. In those meetings he pushed the VP Marketing to be candid about his campaigns so that he could make adjustments. Importantly, he demonstrated to the client that he could take criticism and turn it into better results for them both.
Sometimes clients and vendors who have worked together for a long time get caught in a rut. They stop talking about how to constantly improve, and let things roll, just the way they always have. But the best partnerships are constantly renewed. It’s important to sit down on a regular basis to re-examine the way you work together and brainstorm how that could be improved.
In Brian’s case he started travelling to the client’s offices every other month to spend an hour brainstorming new campaign ideas and new concepts for creative.
Sometimes, we act more like vendors than partners. In order to deepen the relationship it’s crucial to examine your work from your clients’ point of view. In particular ask them to share the metrics they use to judge how effective your work has been—things like number of new clients, retention rates, satisfaction scores and revenue numbers. Consider how you could help them improve those numbers.
To accomplish this Brian set up quarterly meetings with the client’s marketing team to review all the measures that mattered to them and discuss changes to try in the next quarter.
Although conducting Skype reviews, brainstorming meetings and quarterly performance check-ins meant more non-paid work for Brian and required more of the client’s time, the effort really paid off for both parties. Brian gained a much better understanding of Abigail Foods’ goals and how the work he was doing helped help them achieve their targets. And the constant feedback, while not always pretty, ensured that he was able to constantly evolve his offering to keep the client happy.
Today, Brian has carried this feedback and understanding process over to all of his clients and his business is stronger than ever.