One of the most common issues I’m asked about, across those in B2B and professional services firms, is how they can meaningfully engage and talk to their clients once their work/project/matter has been completed. It is obviously a cause of celebration and relief for many service providers to have finished a project, or matter, and to then send the invoice off to the client. However, once that final invoice is sent and then paid, many professionals and consultants struggle with knowing what to talk about next. Just how do you talk to your clients, once you’ve successfully completed the work?
Firstly, you’ll need to understand what the barriers are to you engaging with your client outside of the work you deliver for them.
1. The only value you give your client, is in the work you do for them.
Firstly, this is great, it is important for any business to deliver their service or product well. And you can maintain a client relationship for many years along the lines of being reliable and delivering great work.
However, assuming you have competitors with similar offerings, then you’re in danger of either a) being replaced if your service level slips, or b) getting driven down on price since they can buy the same/similar service from your competitors.
In terms of long-term relationships and business planning, the main downside to this is that they only talk to you when they need your service. Quite often once they have scoped the project out and they then need delivery help, which means it can be hard to plan or resource for this work, as you may have little overview of when it will arrive.
2. You didn’t get proper client feedback after you got paid.
It is vitally important that on completion of a piece of work, that you celebrate it internally, especially with your team who put a great deal of hard work, in. However, just because you got paid and hit all the required KPI’s or milestones, your client interaction shouldn’t finish with a remittance advice.
It is amazing how many people don’t know the business value that their client got from the project they delivered. The reason they don’t know this is simple. They never asked.
In their formal or informal client feedbacks, assuming they have them, many firms and organisations will ask questions like the following:
“Were you happy with our service delivery?”
“Did you like our team?”
“Would you use us again?”
“Are you likely to recommend us?”
All great questions, some of these may even be part of how you capture your Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is certainly a very useful metric for businesses to record. However, the questions above are missing one vital piece of feedback that will help you really understand more about your client’s business. In the future I suggest that you ask:
“How did the work we delivered impact on your business, and what you wanted to achieve?”
In short, did the client under achieve, achieve, or exceed their desired outcome? If you don’t ask this, not only will all your case studies be un-compelling or even boring, but more importantly your client might think you don’t really care about them and their wider business goal, or even how you fit in to help them achieve their goals.
3. You took no interest in their world outside the project.
You got on great during delivery, exchanged stories about your weekends, chatted about TV or sport, yet you don’t know what to talk about now the project has finished. This is possibly because you never took an active interest in their role within their organisation, their personal drivers, or even what other things they are working on. It may be that your project isn’t the most important thing to them, but do you know what is? All that time working together, and you may well be none the wiser.
All of this gives background about why you find it so difficult to engage your client outside of the work you do. However, the most important part of this is understanding what you need to do to change this cycle.
The 3 ways to talk to your clients after you’ve completed the work.
1. Take an interest in what’s important to them.
Not just in the project, but also outside. What is important to their organisation and what they are trying to achieve? What’s important to her or him in their role, be it now or in the future? I would recommend planning one or two questions you can ask in each meeting that will change the relationship, and will demonstrate you are interested in their wider world. Why not ask what their other priorities are?
2. Keep in touch in a meaningful way.
Once you know what’s important to them, keep an eye out for reports or third-party intelligence that you think they might find useful. Then when you find it, email it to them with a short note, pointing out the things of interest to them. This info may well help them, but if nothing else, it simply shows you care about them. It is acts like these that start to build trust.
3. Close out your project the right way.
Check in with them that the final outcome has met their organisational and personal needs. Find out in what ways it actually benefited them. Show a real interest in where they are going to next, and perhaps offer some insights or contacts to help them with their next stages, if appropriate. They’ll appreciate this. If you help them succeed as their career grows, they’ll most likely take you with them, or even introduce you to the senior people in their organisation. Actually doing this properly, means they are more likely to refer you to someone in their network. And referrals are one of the best ways of winning new work.
To summarize, if you have the courage to have a deeper conversation beyond the service you provide, you’ll not only understand your client better, you may also be able to ask them questions in every interaction that they may find valuable. This approach helps them with their own thinking. The key is to be curious and seek to help them. If you do this, you’ll have plenty of reasons to talk to them all year round and maintain that on-going relationship.