Reposted, with modifications, based on my guest post for the May Civil Engineering Central blog.
There’s an art to building and maintaining client relationships. It’s more important than ever before. Clients are becoming more difficult to “win” and their loyalty is more elusive. And the definition of “client” encompasses those individuals within the workplace, your subcontractors and the companies who have contracted your products, services and capabilities.
There’s no room for elitism in client relationships. Your clients, subcontractors, co-workers and boss may admire your skill set and communication acumen. However, they do not hire you so they can worship you. They hire you for What’s In It For Me (WIFM): what you bring to their table and how you build their revenue stream.
Your “wow” solution or creative design allows people to appreciate you for understanding their needs. They assess your ability at communicating and asking good questions. They are delighted in your facility in translating these needs to the various technical disciplines involved in the project. And they will laud you and your company for producing output that not only solves their initial problem, but perhaps moves their company further along competitively as well.
So don’t ruin the momentum you and your company have created by an attitude that communicates you are “too cool” for your clients. Or worse, that your clients are “too ignorant” for you to truly impart the sum total of your skill set. Or that the language and principles of your technical expertise are too far beyond the capacity of your clients to understand. Oh, please. These are not the differentiators you want to establish no matter how good you are, how educated you are or how wonderful your solutions are. There’s someone to replace you right around the corner.
That’s not to say you should be your clients’ best friend, either. There is a fine line to maintaining professionalism while being accessible to the full range of your clients’ needs. Developing the extra set (or two) of professional “antenna” which allow you to assess the context of business decision making is crucial to building and maintaining client relationships. And while professionalism may extend into playing golf, providing tickets to events, and invitations to company social events, you still need to remember that you are hired by your clients (and your company, for that matter) to provide solutions, not companionship.
When it comes down to it, your client base doesn’t owe you anything after they pay their last invoice to your company. No matter how much they fawn over you during the course of the project. Regardless of whether or not they made you feel invincible and infallible during the course of the project. Repeat business isn’t guaranteed. And the context of the next project with this same client may not afford you anywhere near the same degree of familiarity as you encountered during the previous project. In fact, you may not be working with the same set of internal contacts either. All the variables may have changed.
So what legacy do you leave your clients, upon completion of each project? How do you make them feel?
Think about it. I know they will.