As the old cliché says, sometimes the best defence is a great offence.
The same rules we use for personal relationships are just as applicable to business relationships. Because at the end of the day, we are all human. We want to be valued, noticed, and respected. And above all, we want to be heard.
Sometimes however, we can all fall into the trap of getting too comfortable and missing some of the signs that things aren’t as perfect as they once were. Here are some signals you might already be getting, and what you can do in response:
Engagement has dropped off
Has distance increased in the relationship? Meeting attendance is starting to slip, email replies taking longer than usual or no reply at all? Whilst there can be many reasons for this behaviour, at a minimum it’s a signal that the relationship does not have priority.
- Think about when engagement was high, what was the context? Was it a new project? A large deal? If the relationship has become transactional then consider what new things may be on the horizon.
- Consider the forces upon your customer’s business in the current climate, and how you could be helping solve those – even if there’s no immediate upside to you.
- Change the scenery, grab a beer after work or shout them lunch on Friday. Perhaps bring a new face into the mix; a senior figure or a thought leader who they may open up to.
- Whatever you do, take any ‘sell’ out of the conversation and try listening instead.
Conversation tone has changed
Has the tone of communications swung (even subtly) to one of frustration, or even negativity? People will usually hint what is wrong early on, but will get increasingly frustrated if they need to repeat themselves. Have there been longer term issue(s) that never seem to get fixed?
- Go back through your notes and emails and make a list of any potential problems, you’ll quickly see a pattern and work out what the priority is.
- Surprise them by acknowledging the issues up front (you were always tracking them, after all) with plans on how to resolve them and when.
- Own it. Don’t pass the buck, and make sure you hit your dates.
- It’s perfectly OK if investment is required. Frame the benefits, and your customer may be a lot more forthcoming than you might think. What is a small problem in your eyes, may be a daily frustration in theirs and a ‘quick fix’ is sometimes all that’s needed.
Your contract is being referenced
Is your customer asking for a copy of the contract, or querying any particular terms (end dates, notice periods)? This is clearly not a great sign. There’s definitely consideration going on and it’s time to maximise the value you and your organisation are bringing to the relationship.
Remember: it costs magnitudes (5, 6, 7 times) more to acquire a new customer as it does to retain one.
- Take a good look in the mirror and consider the value proposition for your customer under this contract. Are you delivering great value for their investment?
- It’s time to bring innovation to the table, explain why you’re best placed for success because of what you’re achieved for others, and where your organisation is headed.
- Know the market. Make sure you’ve done a competitive assessment and be ready for comparative questions.
- The good news is that customers typically want to avoid churn; so this is yours to lose. Think about what added value you could bring or what commercial renegotiation options are available in order to retain them.
Has your customer’s company been bought by another company, or perhaps your main contact has left or changed roles? Depending on the relationship, you might feel you’re the last to know but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose them.
- Be proactive about introducing yourself and taking the new decision-makers through your history and value offered.
- If they’ve been acquired, you might actually find this to be an opportunity to up-sell into the parent organisation.
- Operate as a true partner so you’re in tune with what’s going on, otherwise by the time you find out, it could be too late.
Customers will always value strong service along with a great product, but that also includes maintaining the relationship. If you stay on top of this, you’ll be able to manage problems before your customer has even thought about making a decision to stay or leave.