If you haven’t had a client push you to the brink, you haven’t been in business long enough…
Your passion and expertise form the backbone of your business, and your clients are its lifeblood. Like the special people in your family or personal life, some clients can be difficult to deal with: fickle, endlessly picky, stubborn. Sure, there are times where the best decision is a “business breakup”, where you tell a client you are no longer “a fit” for their needs. Then there are the relationships that are worth fighting for—and you’ve got to step in and take action.
In 2015, one of my most important client relationships hit the rocks. Every deliverable we seemed to produce never really “hit the mark”, as our client would say. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t bring us back into alignment. As a last resort, I decided to “stop the presses” (as they say in the newspaper printing industry) and have a heart to heart. The result: in 2016, after our realignment, our client’s revenue grew 45% and they are one of our company’s biggest promoters. Here’s how we did it:
Re-discuss overarching goals/alignment: I met with our client one-on-one at a coffee shop and we discussed why he hired us in the first place. The more we talked, the more I realized that our client was focused on a few small deliverables we had produced which were relatively insignificant in light of our higher-level plan. We discussed how the other actions we were taking were part of the greater strategy, and were able to get realigned on what our true priorities were as a team.
Make a noticeable change: As our discussion continued, I learned that the way we were managing our client’s account wasn’t in line with how the owner liked to communicate. He explained how he liked information presented to him and how he liked projects completed. After hearing his point of view, I realized the account manager we had assigned to him wasn’t the right fit for his preferences, and we made a change. This demonstrated that we were taking action, not just nodding along.
Make a request: Turmoil in a relationship is almost never just one person’s “fault”; usually both parties have contributed to causing friction. In this case, we discussed how some of our client’s lack of communication and slow turn around with feedback was causing a backlog of work and an unsteady rhythm. We agreed to a two-week notice of any future deliverables and set some expectations for response times. This smoothed out the friction our internal team was feeling with work on the account, which only brought more positivity to our interactions and overall relationship.
Set a timeframe: As we wrapped up our conversation, I was able to get our client to agree to re-evaluate what we were discussing in three months, which gave us a bit of a runway to implement the changes we discussed. It pushed the immediate frustrations back and gave everyone some room to breathe as we implemented what we all agreed upon. At the three-month mark, I sent a nonchalant email saying, “It looks like we are good now, eh?!” And the client replied, “Absolutely.”
Document and put in writing what was discussed: After we finished our meeting I took the time to document the bullet points of what we discussed and agreed to, and included a few more detailed notes about the reasons we fell out of alignment. This showed our client I was actively listening, and also made sure we were clear on expectations for both sides.
Client relationships are the lifeblood of your business. At times you need to let clients go, but most of the time I find you just need to reset expectations and change the way you are communicating—”stop the presses”—so you don’t cause a bigger issue by compounding existing frustrations. A simple reframing of the relationship can fix most any issue.