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March 1, 2020

“But we’re a really good partner.”

3 Steps to True Big-Client Partnerships

I had a conversation last week with a friend of mine, the well-known CEO of a large market research firm. He was telling me about the time when he first joined his firm and, as part of his onboarding, reviewed their top 10 clients. One of them was a Fortune 100 company, a manufacturer of consumer food & beverage products… a brand known around the world. He was excited to learn that this company was his firm’s largest client and that his firm was a “good partner” to them.

As the newest member of the firm, he had a few questions to ask his boss about this #1 client:

Q: “I know we’re doing all of the work for one of their brands… what about the other brands?”

A: “No, but we’re a really good partner.”

Q: “It’s great that our key contact is the head of Consumer Insights, but do we have contacts in Marketing and Brand Management, too?”

A: “No, but we’re a really good partner.”

Q: “When was the last time we visited this client in person?”

A: “Six months, but we’re a really good partner.”

And what happened? Their key contact left the company and my friend’s firm lost the client. Of course!

Sound familiar? This true-to-life scenario plays out over and over again in our industry. We assume – because we have a ‘champion’ inside the company and do good work for them – that they will be a client forever. Guess what? It NEVER works out that way!

If you’re a ‘good partner’ to a few large clients – but want to deepen and widen your partnerships to ensure long-term success – here are the 3 key steps to make that happen:

Step 1: Create an org chart of your top clients. Literally. Sketch out people on multiple levels and in multiple departments… anyone who might be involved in influencing or helping to make the decision about using your firm. Then go about getting to know them.

Create an org chart of your top clients. Literally. Sketch out people on multiple levels and in multiple departments... anyone who might be involved in influencing or helping to make the decision about using your firm. Click To Tweet

Step 2: To stay top-of-mind, brainstorm on the kinds of consistent ‘touch points’ you should be implementing with your largest clients; here’s a list of some activities to help you get started thinking:

  • Get to know your key contacts personally. What’s their marital status? Do they have kids? Who’s their favorite sports team? When is their birthday? Where did they go to college? Then talk about these kinds of things when you get together.
  • C-SAT surveys. If you’re not doing post-project surveys yet, you should be. Surveys like this demonstrate to your clients that you care about the quality of your work… and their feedback tells you what needs to be improved.
  • Thank you notes & gifts. Stop sending email thank you notes. If a company is spending $100-200-$300k a year (or more) with you, get in the habit of sending handwritten thank you notes and tangible gifts (Instead of flowers or wine – which are fine – consider tickets to see their favorite sports team or a hardback book).
  • LinkedIn and CRM. As you fill out the org chart, make sure you connect with every new contact on LinkedIn and that they are added to your CRM.
  • Marketing help. With all of those connections on LinkedIn and in your CRM, they ought to be hearing from your firm on a regular basis – via your firm’s monthly enewsletter and with everything your firm posts on LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Share resources. Ever come across an online article that you think would interest your key clients? Of course… so get in the habit of sharing them with your client contacts. This doesn’t have to be just work-related… maybe it’s about their favorite sports team or alma mater.
  • [My personal favorite…] Visit them in-person as often as is feasible: put on a lunch-n-learn, take your key contact (and his/her co-workers) out to dinner; show up in the morning with bagels, or take your contact out for a cup of coffee and just talk.
  • Do you put on webinars? Ask your key contacts to co-present.
  • Do you blog frequently? Profile your key contacts in a blog post.
  • And any one of a thousand other things… the key is to be frequent and consistent over time with them.

Step 3: Create an Account Plan. Decide on which activities you can and should be doing with each of your largest clients to enhance your partnerships. Then determine when they should take place and put them into a calendar of activities. Now get to work.

Bottom line: Just because you think you’re a good partner doesn’t mean your client necessarily feels the same way. All clients are important… but larger ones mean more! Make sure you’re doing everything possible to take extra-special care of them.

 

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