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Client Relationships: Is It Time for a Checkup?

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Most people know they have to get an annual physical if they hope to keep on top of their health. But annual checkups are a vital part of keeping your business relationships healthy, too. According to Andrew Sobel, who, along with coauthor Jerold Panas, has written a new book entitled “Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others,” “You should absolutely review the ‘health’ of your client relationships on a regular basis.”

Client relationships are the life blood of any business, so keeping them healthy is of paramount importance. “Here’s why: Most clients vote with their feet. They don’t tell you they are unhappy—they simply start to give their business to your competitors. Client relationship checkups can help you gauge the health of these relationships, prescribe changes when necessary, and identify ways to further grow them.”

One way to give your client relationships a shot in the arm is to employ power questions. And Sobel offers dozens of questions that can challenge the way clients view things, help them arrive at new solutions to old problems and prompt them to share their innermost thoughts and concerns, all of which strengthen your bond.

“All business interactions are human interactions,” he says. “And part of being human is acknowledging that you don’t know everything about everything—and that you certainly don’t know everything about the other person’s needs. Questions help you understand these things more deeply, and they’re an essential tool when assessing the health of client relationships.”

When client relationship checkups aren’t performed regularly, a relationship can take an unexpected turn. Sobel tells the story of his client, a Fortune 100 company with a longstanding relationship with IBM. When the relationship manager for Sobel’s client called in advance of a big meeting, his phone call was never returned. “When [the then-president of IBM] met with their CEO, he opened by saying, ‘My people tell me we have an ‘A’ relationship with your organization.’ My client’s CEO responded, ‘Well, my team tells me your relationship with us is a ‘C.’ ”

This was a wakeup call for the IBM team to dramatically improve their relationship with Sobel’s client, which it did. And, as the IBM anecdote illustrates, client health “screenings” are necessary if you hope you keep your client relationships in tip-top shape. With the help of Sobel’s relationship checkup questions, your client relationships can continue to thrive year after year.

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