The Key Client Plan states that:
“…all involved in the x instruction need to build and maintain close working relationships with their clients. It is essential that an affinity and mutual respect is developed as this will make the day to day experience of working with one another more enjoyable, and in so doing encourage additional instructions.”
“Formal ‘contact templates’ should be prepared containing information and insights on all of the key influencers to use those insights to manage, defend and develop each of those relationships with responsibility allocated for each person”
This does not imply that existing relationships with this client are poor; however the better everyone in the team is at engaging with everyone in the client organisation the more we can maximise the value of the relationship – to both sides.
This note aims to give some guidance to team members on how they can play their part in building and maintaining the relationships for which they are responsible. For some people in the team this note may act as reassurance that they are doing everything right, for others there may be some useful reminders, while for some there may be new ideas that will help to build confidence, skills, motivation and effectiveness in this vital part of everyone’s role.
There is no intention to build a team of clones – please consider the ideas in this document and then decide what will work for you and your contacts – based on your own personality and the unique personalities of the contacts at the clients that you engage with.
Some principles of excellent client engagement
- Everyone is unique. Every person in every client organisation has a different set of needs, wants, priorities, preferences, personality traits and opinions. If we are to deliver to each person in a way that delights them – and motivates them to choose / recommend us – we need to understand in depth what they want and need and what makes them tick.
- We need to treat every contact in the way they want to be treated – not in the way we would like if we were them. This relates to delivery, communication and all elements of added value and client care.
- The cornerstone of excellent client management is how we deliver our core expertise. This must be as perfect as possible in the eyes of each contact. We need to understand, and agree, exactly how each would like us to plan, execute and communicate our work.
- Excellent delivery is necessary – but not sufficient – if we are aiming for a delighted client. In addition we need to deliver (genuine, significant and well recognised) added value to each contact. Added value is in the eye of the beholder and will be different for each person.
- Based on 1-4 above, a key to our success in managing key client relationships is the continuous gathering and dissemination of in-depth, up-to-date, accurate and comprehensive understanding of each client contact. It is useful to keep insights on each contact in a contact template so that everyone knows their preferences. The use of this template can help to identify gaps in understanding and to make sure the information is kept up to date. Information in the template should be kept in line with current data protection policies. An example of a contact template is available on request.
- It is everyone’s job to gather, maintain and communicate this information, understanding and insight. This means taking every opportunity to keep up-to-date with people we know well, get to know better people we know slightly and meet and build a relationship with people we do not yet know.
- Critical to gaining this understanding is a significant amount of face-to-face (and telephone) contact with enough people on both sides and the opportunity to discuss a wide range of subjects (work and personal) – not just the immediate matters in hand.
- The quality of the insights shared by client contacts will depend on the quality of the relationship with people in our team and the belief in each contact’s mind that by sharing this information he / she will get an even better service – whatever that means to him or her.
- There is no substitute for action. Client engagement actions need to be planned and carried out on a regular basis – even though team members are all busy. With the insight gained in the steps described above each team member should develop an action plan designed to delight all of his / her contacts. As far as possible, each team member needs to enjoy this element of his / her role.
- Finally, there needs to be a balance between team co-ordination and individual initiative. Everyone should be aware of the client plan and their role in achieving its goals. Actions taken by team members should not confuse the client or mean any contacts are either pestered or ignored. At the same time each team member should be encouraged to take their own initiative based on their knowledge of the client and specific individuals.
Guidelines (some of these are very obvious!)
1 People we already know well:
- Keep up to date with everything going on in their world – pressures, priorities, opportunities etc.
- Keep up to date with their views of us – including what they particularly like about what we are doing and how we are doing it today.
- Make sure the way we are delivering our core work is just as this person would like. Make sure that there is nothing in what we do and the way we do it that is causing unnecessary irritation or hassle to any individual.
- Keep finding ways to add (and to demonstrate) real value to each person.
- Every now and again ‘surprise’ each person with something that is particularly valuable, interesting, useful or enjoyable.
- Invite them to events they would really love to attend.
- Try to have as much face-to-face contact as you can. Make some of this contact social if possible so that you have a mix of business, social, and personal conversations with each person. The appropriate balance of this conversation will depend on the personality and preference of each individual.
- Try to make sure that every point of contact this person has with our firm is positive.
- Become / remain a really valuable resource to each person – in core areas of expertise and in other areas that are of value.
- Discuss how each person sees the future – personally, departmentally and for the business as a whole. Consider how we (individually, as a client team, as a department and as a whole firm) could help them to take advantage of future opportunities and overcome future challenges. Knowledge of these future events could enable us to deliver value. Whether this is paid or unpaid would depend on the nature of that input / value.
- Motivate existing contacts to introduce us to other people we do not know.
2 People we know, but not well:
- Find opportunities to meet face to face with these people, either 1:1 or in a group. Find out from other contacts and colleagues what kind of face-to-face interaction they would be interested in.
- Use every interaction – telephone and in person – to build up a real understanding of each person. Ask interesting questions, listen with genuine interest and use the insights you gain to make sure the service they get from us is first class. Demonstrate the connection between our understanding and the quality of service they receive – motivate them to be open with us.
- Build a relationship of trust, value, credibility, understanding and personal chemistry over time
- When we know them really well make sure we maintain the quality and freshness of the relationship by reverting to (1) above.
3 People we do not know:
- Individually and as a client team map the relationships we have in client x, identify people we do not know and put in place a plan to get to know them. Those team members who are part of that plan need to invest time in building strong relationships with those target individuals.
- Do some research on these individuals. Find out from colleagues and other contacts as much as we can so that we can make the best approach to these individuals. Decide who is the best person to make that approach – depending on the role of the individual and what we have managed to find out about them.
- Beware of making making a cold approach. Try to find a warm way to meet them – either through an introduction from a colleague or other contact, an invitation to a business or social event or by arranging a joint meeting with someone we already know. Motivate the new contact to meet by making sure that they believe they will get something from this meeting – and then make sure that they do! Use this meeting to get to know the new person and to build rapport.
- Once we have met this person use the insights we have gained to plan the most appropriate, interesting, valuable (to us and the individual concerned) next steps in the relationship. Make sure we carry out those next steps, either individually or with colleagues. Check regularly how the relationship is developing. Make sure we neither pester nor ignore this person.
- Once we have started to build this relationship revert to (2) and then (1) above.
The aim of the key client plan is to help to maximise the value of the relationship to both sides. This will result in everyone in the client really wanting to work with us, and wanting to do so more than they want to work with our best competitors. The situation at the moment may already be very good; the plan has been put together to ensure that actions are taken to make the situation excellent. These actions cannot be left to a few people. Everyone on the team has a part to play. Success will come from every team member contributing to client engagement, consistently and with passion and skill.
The above guidelines are just that, guidelines. Please decide what ideas and approaches will work for you and the contacts with whom you work. Focus on understanding and treating each person as a unique individual. Everyone in our team is busy but a relatively small amount of effort focused on building and maintaining the strongest possible relationships with everyone in the client organisation can have a massive effect.
One final piece of guidance – Do Something Today!