Monday, November 12, 2012

PSMJ Tips: Win the Next Project by Cementing the Relationship During the First

It is much easier and more rewarding to sell to an existing client than a new client. This old truth still rings true. Building trust takes time, and time is money. But it is five to eight times more expensive to get a new client than to keep a current one.

What happens after your first project with a new client is awarded can make or break the long-term relationship. Remember, you and your firm are "under the magnifying glass" during that first project opportunity. It is not that the client wants you to fail; in fact, the opposite is true… the client wants to look as if he or she made the right choice in hiring your firm.

Here are a few ways to use that first project experience to cement a strong, long-term relationship with the client:

• Review project expectations with the client routinely. Most clients will make time for consultations on work products, schedules, budget, sub activities, etc.

• Ask the client to show you a properly prepared invoice. The client can remove any indication of the invoicing firm, but it is to your advantage to know how the client likes invoices to look. Hint: This step can get you paid quickly. A client who receives an invoice that requires lots of wading through to understand will often put it in the "act later" file… delaying your payment unnecessarily.

• Carrying this one step further, if there are intermediate deliverables or monthly status reports, ask to see others in a client-approved format. The more familiar you can make your documents to the client's eyes, the better.

• Get to know the client even better during the first project. Invite her into your office for a lunch and learn session.

• Ask lots of questions. Be curious about how the client's business really operates.

• Learn how the client prefers to communicate. If the client likes to respond to emails but never seems comfortable on the phone, take that into account and use email for routine communications. As millennials now become clients of the present and future, text messaging will be another powerful communications medium.

• At the project's end, ask for a formal debriefing with the appropriate client representative(s). Ask all the tough questions again… what could we do better; how did we communicate best with you; what was your most and least favorite part of working with our firm, etc. This client satisfaction survey should be a regular part of your project wrap-up, but especially with the first project opportunity with a client.

The overall concept is to make the client's experience with your firm as comfortable and familiar as possible. Cement your relationship early in the process. There's no better way to get repeat work.

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