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January 14, 2020

Clients Don’t Fire Their Friends

We’ve all heard the phrase, “People do business with people they like.” And while that’s true, I think it goes even deeper that. Try this one, instead… “All things being equal, people do business with people they like. All things NOT being equal, people STILL do business with people they like.” Or stated another way, “Clients don’t fire their friends.”

Think about your favorite restaurant, for example. You go there for dinner regularly. You know the hostess, the bartender and you have a favorite waiter. But every once in a blue moon, they mess up your meal. You might be a little disappointed, but do you stop going there? Of course not… you like going there, you like these people personally, and you know they’ll get it right the next time. That is, you don’t fire them.

It’s the same in our industry. Relationships – genuine relationships – matter.

To make this work for you… first, you might need to change your mind set a little. You need to stop thinking of clients as just ‘clients’ – the source of your next project or commission check. Instead, start thinking of your clients as people (which they are, of course!). Think of them as neighbors… people you want to get know. OK, so how do you do that? Here’s how…

First, make sure you get to know them on a professional level. Take the time to uncover…

  • Their personal work history, experience and background. Their skillsets and expertise. How did they get to where they are now? LinkedIn can help with this.
  • The people in their professional lives… who they work with (even in other departments/other offices), who they report to, who reports to them.
  • Their biggest challenge. That is, what keeps them up at night. Over time, you’ll want to be seen as a resource that can help them solve those problems.
  • How they’re judged. If you can help them gain recognition or earn a raise, bonus or promotion… they will never fire you.

The more you understand them at work, the more you can help them be successful.

Then, begin to get to know them on a personal level; over time, learn about their…

  • Background: where they grew up, where they went to college, were they live now, etc?
  • Family: Married/single/divorced? Kids/grandkids?
  • Hobbies: What do they do in their spare time? Do they like to go fishing, play golf, read, go to the movies, etc.?
  • Sports teams: Who are they passionate about – think pro sports and their college alma mater.
  • Travel / vacation: When they get time off, what do they like to do/where do they like to go?

Sources for this information could be their LinkedIn profile, their Facebook page, but more than likely, just from talking with them.

Why is knowing this personal information important? Friends – and that’s what you want to be with your clients – connect, deeply, over these kinds of things. Imagine your client goes to the movies a lot. So, talk with them about the latest movies… which ones you both liked or disliked or disagree about. And it would be pretty easy to get them a couple of tickets to an upcoming feature film. This sort of connection (over time) will cement your relationship in a way that simply doing good project work for them never could!

Finally, knowing lots of personal details about your clients isn’t enough. You need to proactively stay in touch… just like you would with a friend or neighbor. So, get in the habit of…

  • Sharing information. If you come across an article online – one that aligns with their interests (hobbies/sports team/travel) – then take two minutes to send them a link to it with a very simple, personal note. Something like, “Mary… I saw this article about top restaurants in Rome and – since you’re heading there this summer – thought it might interest you. Regards, Steve.”
  • Greeting cards. If you’ve gotten to know your clients, then don’t be shy about sending them birthday cards or congratulations cards when they celebrate a work/personal anniversary, when their child graduates from college, when they have their first grandchild, etc.
  • Sending check-in emails and making check-in calls. If it’s been a while since you connected with a client, reach out and just ask how they’re doing. What’s new? How’s the family? Etc. You can get to project discussions later… but start out on a personal level.
  • Maybe most importantly, be there. Your client relationships – just like with your personal-life friends and neighbors – isn’t just about emails, text messages and phone calls. Find time – as often as possible – to connect in-person. Meet for coffee. Buy them a drink afterwork. Go out to dinner. And if they’re out of town… make the commitment to go visit them. Think of it this way… if a client is spending $50-100-200k with you each year, you can afford a couple of plane tickets.

One final note… you can’t fake this! If you don’t genuinely care about people, in general, and you try to implement some sort of “get to know them” scheme using the ideas above, it will become quickly and plainly obvious that you are insincere and trying to leverage a personal relationship just to ‘sell more stuff.’ While that may be the ultimate benefit – because clients don’t fire their friends – go into this with the goal of getting to know your client better and [perhaps] making some real, genuine new friends.

All by itself, that’s a pretty good thing, too.

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