A couple of years ago at 3Pillar, we had a client who was a perfect client for us. As we spoke with them, we learned that they had the desire to engage with us in our ideal model. It was an ideal model that we were just kicking off and moving toward, but one we were confident we could deliver on.
Unfortunately, the relationship got off to a rocky start.
Here’s what I learned from the situation about how to have a successful client relationship.
1. Be up-front and forthcoming with where you are in the process of building your aspiration.
In this situation, we led the client to believe that we were more mature than we really were. We attempted to be honest, but in our exuberance and our excitement to deliver for them, we gave them a sense of security that was ill-founded.
2. Don’t be so excited and blinded by phenomenal situations that you are willing to engage in them at any cost.
It was such a perfect example that we worked through some financial struggles that put too many handcuffs on us. We were prepared to work with the client and manage expectations, yet we weren’t prepared to actually execute on it.
We had a struggle to really make them see that the budget they came up with, even though they had cut our initial estimates by 40%, wasn’t going to get them to where they needed to be.
Ultimately, by agreeing to engage with them with creative means, we ended up putting at risk our ability to be successful in the long term.
3. Use your standard operating model no matter how special something (or someone) is.
This relationship was so exciting to us that we decided not to use our standard operating model to execute it. We assigned one of our senior executives as an executive sponsor and, instead of putting oversight within our normal client services organization, asked him to run with it directly.
Because of this, it was outside of the normal process and the checks and balances weren’t in place to make sure that things were running smoothly. The reporting, the eyes of the entire company, and the processes we’ve learned make us successful weren’t there.
We thought we were doing a great job of highlighting this and making it a more important priority, but instead of building upon the foundation we had as a company, we totally made things different and moved and built a house on a lot that didn’t have a foundation.
We should have added the extra oversight with the senior executive on top of the structure that already existed.
4. Continually manage expectations.
We ended up losing a very significant amount of money because those involved didn’t have the fortitude to raise their hands when we started to lose money. It took a while before we realized that we had gotten ourselves into a mess.
Enable employees to raise their hands and to call out issues. Give them the tools to communicate clearly when things are going haywire. Ensure that you set very deliberate expectations that, no matter how special a client or important a customer, there are certain parameters that we must live within.
If we had had proactive conversations instead of reactive conversations, we would not have lost the money we lost with that account AND we would have saved a relationship.
5. Be ready to tell your clients when they’re wrong.
That’s right: customers don’t always know what they need. They know what they want. By giving them what they want instead of what they need, you jeopardize their business.
This company was a start-up or a subsidiary within another organization. We continually pushed back on different things that we disagreed with, but we weren’t bold enough. We didn’t stand up and say, “You will fail if you do this.”
At the end of the day, the client wasn’t seasoned enough to take our advice. We should have escalated earlier. We should have held to our guns. We knew the decisions they made were fatal flaws, but we got so engrossed in making the customer happy that we weren’t resolved to make the customer successful.