A colleague, who was 15 years my senior, provided me with the best client service advice I ever received. I always admired the quality of his business relationships. Although his clients seemed to have a tendency to be demanding, they were also his personal friends who were loyal and negotiated winning contracts. One day, I asked him how he did it, and the answer stuck with me.
His advice: Always work to get your client promoted to a higher job level. Study what their bosses’ or organization’s values are and then help your client deliver them. Initially, don’t divulge this goal to your clients, but once successful progress has been achieved, let them know your objective. I have never had a client say; “Oh no, don’t do that!”
At first glance, one might say this concept is no different than delivering the scope of work on time, on budget and with the best quality. But these goals should be a “given,” whereas this promotion theory goes much farther. Over the years, I’ve found my clients could get credit by solving issues or enhancing an idea outside the scope of work. Finding the necessary characteristics to your client’s success takes work. You cannot initially be so direct as to ask, but by building a relationship and studying the way others attained promotion, you can better understand the values of the individuals within the organization who are responsible for those promotions.
For example, one project I worked on was relatively straightforward in scope, but I realized that my client’s boss wanted to be recognized in the industry for innovation. As a result, I wrote a technical paper on the project and convinced my client to submit a paper, co-authored by me, into a professional conference. We then went a step further and asked his boss to co-author the next paper. Eventually, we convinced his boss to attend a conference and present that paper. It was no surprise that the boss thought it was a fantastic project and congratulated my client for a great piece of innovation. That’s getting your client promoted! It was the “above and beyond” supplement to delivering the initial scope of work.
The final level in a great client relationship is becoming a trusted career advisor for your client for the rest of their career. That relationship develops as you repeatedly aid them in obtaining a promotion. They become your friends for life and will eventually reciprocate by helping you whenever they can. I don’t mean to infer that you are using or manipulating these relationships. Over time, you tend to deeply care about the individual as you would a personal friend. You glean much about them—their fears, abilities, their families and their ambitions. It is a genuinely satisfying phase of business and personal relationship development. Due to the amount of energy I have devoted to these relationships, I now feel I am not working for them, I am working with them through their careers.
The human psyche is rooted in ‘what’s in it for me?,’ turn this to your advantage…and reap the rewards.
© 2014 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.