Building a strong rapport with clients is fundamental to day-to-day business operations. Yet, a strong long-term relationship can take a lot of time and effort and goes beyond completing daily tasks.
This is especially true for service providers, whose relationships with clients differ from other customer-vendor relationships.
While product businesses, for example, tend to operate on a project-to-project basis, service businesses seek to achieve longer-term relationships, which means they may experience more ups and downs with their clients.
Regardless of the type of business (digital agencies, systems integrators, consultants), today’s service providers are successful because they have a mindset of solving their clients’ problems, rather than merely offering solutions. To succeed, service providers need to act as an extensions of the client’s team. They are constantly having to balance both moving forward with daily tasks and demonstrating their value to the client in order to solidify the relationship.
But with increased thought into longer-term initiatives and commitment to hard and soft deliverables, service providers are better able to earn the trust of clients. When done correctly this can lead, not only to a better working relationship, but also to increased business as happy, confident clients are more likely to expand their current projects and recommend you to their peers.
In contrast, poorly managed relationships can create unnecessary friction as clients feel less aligned with service providers. This frustration will make daily tasks even harder to complete and take important time away from longer, strategic goals.
In my experience developing relationships across industries and geographies, the following are the six keys to making a relationship grow beyond the contract.
1. Stay Relevant
In ever-changing times, it is critical to stay relevant to clients so relationships stay fresh and vibrant. Customers’ businesses are always evolving and dealing with new opportunities and challenges, and likewise they need partners that provide new, contextual and innovative ideas and solutions. For example, today it is equally important to provide services related to digital, cloud, analytics, etc., as it is to embrace the future as market segments open and opportunities arise for businesses.
2. Be Agile
A relationship developed over time can certainly increase the business agility quotient for customers. New product launches, new market entries and optimizing business processes are just a few ways partners have helped increased customers’ agility, a key to long-term growth and success.
3. Measure and Communicate Business Value
The cornerstone of any long-term partnership, quantifying business value is key — and it must be properly and continuously communicated to all stakeholders. Relationships built on strong foundations with clearly articulated value across executive and operating levels go a long way in ensuring healthy and successful partnerships. Connecting the dots from technology and processes to business is where the magic happens. At the end, what can be quantified and measured brings everyone in sync and onto the same page.
4. Leverage Bilateral Wins
In a long-term partnership, it’s important that wins are seen as joint successes and celebrated by all sides. Over time, not only are customers’ successes paramount, but it is equally important to ensure the same for service providers. Significant relationships must anchor new ideas, seed a new business line, etc., to ensure that the scale of operations doesn’t become a detriment. Long-term and strategic customers are equally interested in investing and creating value for service providers.
5. Invest in Leaders
People who can dream, take charge and deliver always take a central role in building a long-term partnership. A relationship that has grown over a number of years must have great leaders on both sides, who are focused on growing the partnership.
6. Manage Cultural Alignment
While often an overlooked aspect, a strong partnership must ensure consistent and continuous focus on cultural aspects of the relationship at all levels of engagement. No two organizations are culturally the same — each has its own character, identity, processes, etc. — nor do cultures remain fixed, especially after a senior leadership change.