A successful professional once confided that she enjoys the prospecting process as much as actually doing the work. I saw her point. New business acquisition requires strong interpersonal skills, an excellent service or product and just plain good timing – sometimes seasoned with a pinch of luck. I love prospecting, as well. It is easier for some professionals than for others but everyone loves welcoming a new client.
It may be the culmination of months of building a prospect’s trust, or having your proposal chosen over many others by a large committee whose members you have never met. Sometimes it can simply be a referral that gets you the business after just one phone call or meeting.
However you get there, the stakes are high over the life of a lengthy and potentially lucrative contract, or what I call ‘tester’ assignments that grow to become big ones.
Whether your new client is a sole proprietor with 10 employees or a large enterprise with 10,000 employees, there is one constant that will determine your success. It rests on your ability to remain the person they thought you were when they entrusted you in the beginning with their business success. Your business relationship will grow on a good foundation as long as you consistently deliver on the promises you made to win the business.
In spite of occurrences you cannot control, such as economic ups and downs and legislative changes that affect your clients’ industry and business model, there are things you can do to make sure things remain steady.
Here are seven tips aimed at creating value for clients as well as for your business.
Laying the foundation: Signing the contract
1. Spend sufficient time with the client to understand their top business goals. Be clear about how you can tailor your services to help meet and exceed the client’s unique goals. This will build confidence from the start.
2. Set out the terms of your relationship and review contracts up front. Leave nothing to interpretation — especially payment terms and related charges. Try to avoid using jargon in contracts or conversations that could be confusing or misinterpreted.
3. Find out how often and by what means your client wants to hear from you. Do they prefer email, telephone or face-to-face meetings? Do they need a detailed report for their team to report back monthly? Quarterly? The interest in their needs will spark trust in how you intend to deal with their business on an ongoing basis.
4. Develop a client “welcome document” to answer questions in advance and communicate a professional and empathetic presence. This showcases your attention to detail and confirms your appreciation of the client’s business. It also indicates that you have the experience to back up your promises because it shows you have been here before with other clients.
Getting started: The work has begun
5. Incorporate personal touches as your business relationship grows over time. However, avoid becoming too familiar, as your judgment may become clouded in certain difficult situations. Focus conversations on the client’s interests and topics related to their business and relevant industry news.
Delegating: Remain accessible (and interested)
6. Let the client meet your team members up front — in your first working meeting. When you wish to win a prospect’s confidence, it is tempting to want to make them feel that they are one of very few clients and will have full access to you. This is a hard promise to keep. You can win a prospect’s confidence by being honest about your commitment to delegating to your team, which you have assembled carefully and trust implicitly. You will be amazed at how well this will be received as the client sees you as an organized, focused professional who is not overly controlling while serving an impressive stable of clients.
Explain the role of your team member(s) and how they will work with you to ensure things run smoothly. Sing their praises and demonstrate your confidence in them. Be clear about whom the client should contact and when, while you remain accessible and ensure the relationship gets off on the right foot.
7. You need not be on call 24/7. Most clients don’t expect you to be on call for them 24/7, unless they are facing an urgent situation where you need to step in as their trusted advisor. At other times, you may need to call on your diplomatic and leadership skills to gently discourage a client who simply enjoys chatting or calls too frequently. Consider suggesting that you meet at pre-arranged times (for example, monthly or weekly) when you can both prepare and focus on the business at hand versus meeting on an ad hoc basis.