OPINION3 June 2015

Client relationships for tomorrow


Business is changing rapidly. Clients have more choice than ever and the danger is most businesses become increasingly commoditised.


The future is harder to predict with new competitors entering the market and client needs changing.

Relationships are always in a state of flux, never static. They are either improving or declining. Relationships can get tired. Both parties can take the other for granted and complacency sets in. How will you future-proof your business? In my workshops with sales teams I often come across “optimism bias”, where we see negative events having less impact than reality. Optimism is great. Delusion is dangerous.

Industries also change and evolve. Too often major players in an industry find it hardest to reinvent themselves. History is littered with examples of businesses that failed to reinvent and stay ahead of their market: Kodak, HMV, Yellow Pages, Blockbuster, Nokia and Psion. Many of these companies were the number one or two in their marketplace.

How can we build relationships for tomorrow?

Firstly do an internal audit of your most important client relationships. What is your view of the quality of the relationship? Has complacency crept in? How critical is your work to the client? How replaceable are you? Then ask the client. Explain to the client that you’ve been thinking about their business and want to deliver a superior service taking things up a level. You want to have a high-level strategic business conversation. You may have to encourage the client to be honest and open up to you. Often our own view is more positive than the clients. Which is the most important view? Procurement call this discrepancy “supplier delusion”.

Who are your best clients for the future? Not all clients are created equal.

This conversation is a two-way process. Think about what you need your client to do differently to enable you to upgrade your service, and then give them feedback: gently but not so gently that they fail to hear what you are saying. Explain what changes you want the client to make and outline how it will benefit them (they’re not interested in how it benefits you!)

Develop a vision of how you need to provide increased value and future-proof your client relationships. If you were a hungry challenger entering your market how would you shape your business? They are unlikely to replicate what the incumbents are providing.

Once you’ve developed the vision for the future, then comes the really hard part: implementing it. Even once we’ve applied the action, the tendency is to slip back to the old ways.

Put dates in the diary to review progress. Maybe a 60-day review is appropriate.

You will need to repeat the process. This is an ongoing challenge. There’s no room for complacency.

Many companies are committed to updating their business model regularly to improve their offering. Google and Amazon are examples of companies that are brilliant at staying ahead of the curve.

Chris Merrington is the founder of Spring 80:20, which specialises in consulting research agencies in their profitable growth and success.


1 Comment

9 years ago

Good article. Sound advice. The point about implementation is key for me. I’ve sat (and stood, interacted and danced) through countless agency review meetings. Some great ideas have been sweated out in these meetings but very few, if any, have actually been followed through and effected any real change in the days, weeks, months that follow. I'm an increasingly reluctant attendee these days.

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