5 Ways to Build Lasting Client Relationships

Having worked for professional services giant Rollins and its flagship brand, Orkin, for virtually my entire career at JS, I’ll confess that it was incredibly rewarding to look back over the past decade and remember so many good times, signature achievements and most importantly, share the trip down memory lane with all the talented and genuinely good people on the Rollins team and ours.

It also made me reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way on how to build a rock-solid client relationship – the kind that stands the test of time. Here are just a few of them.

1. Immerse yourself in your client’s business.

Have you recently started working for a new client? If you want to be celebrating the relationship with them 10 years from now, the first step is to give yourself a crash course in their business. There are so many ways to do this that I could write a separate post dedicated to them, but for now, let’s focus on two fast and effective steps:

  • Create a stream of company and industry news to your inbox – Subscribe to industry blogs, use Google Alerts, set up LexisNexis searches or all of the above, the point is you need an easy way to become an industry insider. Try to spend 15 minutes a day reading industry news (sounds easy but it’s not). Go beyond your client’s news and include competitors and general industry keywords in your searches. If you’re working with a team, assign a team member to comb through these feeds every day and send the entire team the best stuff. You’ll be surprised when you know more than some of your clients do about their own industry. They will be too.
  • “Ride along” with the client’s field personnel – You will learn more about your client’s business in one day in the field than you would in 30 hours of meetings at the corporate office.  Schedule a ride-along with a salesperson, operations or both. Go to a tradeshow. If the client can’t afford to send you, do it pro bono as an investment in the relationship. It’ll pay for itself long term, and you’ll get to do something you’d never otherwise do. I spent two hours in a women’s state prison dressed in an Orkin uniform. Top that.

2. Be an “ideas person.”
I try to instill this goal in every one of our young team members. No matter which clients you serve, the fastest way to earn their respect is to be a constant source of pragmatic ideas for their business. You can’t do this if you haven’t invested in #1 above. Lots of people can be reliable “order takers” as I call them, and don’t get me wrong, great project managers can be very valuable, but they’ll never be as valuable as an informed strategist. One more thing: being an ideas person means thinking beyond the services you or your company can provide. You may not get (or want) to execute the core idea, but if you can make a difference for their business, that always counts for something. And, if you’re in the communications business, there’s almost always a role to be played because nothing gets off the ground without smart communications to inform and excite.

3. Treat your client’s budget like it’s your own money.
Maybe it’s the fact that I’m naturally thrifty (thanks, Presbyterian grandparents) or that I was grounded early in business accounting, but I like to manage my budgets to the penny. It just feels good. When your clients realize that you’re watching their budgets more closely than they do, it gives them tremendous peace of mind and creates a real bond of trust. Look at every budget report and spend recommendation like you’re the client. Would you spend your limited resources that way? Why? If it doesn’t make sense to you, don’t recommend it. It’s that simple.

4. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of this one, but in the day-to-day hustle to hit deadlines and “keep things professional,” downtime with the client is often left out of the equation. Why would we ever think that all work and no play would make for a fulfilling relationship? Whether it’s a monthly lunch, an occasional happy hour or best of all, a road trip, people need time to get to know each other personally. It’s the foundation of everything else. The more “off the clock” time you spend together, the easier it is to pick up the phone and ask a dumb question, collaborate to solve a tough problem, or share a vision for something really big.

5. Know when to be invisible.
In the client-service business, you’re not going to be the star. Everybody who has spent a long time in professional services knows that. Our job is to play a powerful supporting role and let our clients take home the Oscars. Make it your goal to help your clients rise up through their organizations on an updraft of great work. The good ones always know they didn’t do it alone and they’ll continue to rely on you in the clutch. That’s what a great partnership is all about.

These are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years. I’m sure there are many more. How have you built lasting client relationships in your business? I’d love to hear about them.