3 Building Blocks for a Long-Lasting Client Relationship

Here are three guiding principles that are essential in sustaining long-term relationships:

By: Bill McCabe

1to1 Media- We live in a time when business relationships and valued partnerships are fleeting— where it's assumed that the volatility of the business environment makes long-term client relationships a thing of the past. We've found, however, to maintain your brand and successfully grow your organization, solid business relationships should not be built to go fast, they should be built to go far.

What are the essential building blocks for long-lasting collaboration and partnership? First and most obviously, excellent work is paramount. This means everything from meeting deadlines to executing strategies effectively. But in a fast-changing world, excellence is not always enough to sustain a relationship beyond a certain point.

Today, companies evolve their market models and strategies to adapt to market transitions and industry trends. At those evolutionary points, which occur more frequently now than in the past, companies often review their existing business relationships and make changes.

So, how can professional service agencies and other firms prevent that seemingly inevitable switch after a short period of time? Here are three guiding principles that we've found to be essential in sustaining long-term relationships: 

1. Consistent staffing
In professional service firms, especially in the advertising business, organizations routinely move people onto and off of accounts. This is done for many reasons. For example, to bring fresh thinking to the account, to ensure professional staffers don't get bored, or to shift a talented employee to a bigger or more difficult client. Many times, however, these movements can do more harm than good. It takes time for people to trust each other and learn the best ways to communicate. If changes are constantly made to an account and the personnel don't remain for longer periods of time, bonds between client and agency don't form or have the opportunity to deepen. For instance, we have one account that has been with us for more than 40 years. While we certainly have had some turnover on the account because of retirement or other reasons, a number of our key people have worked on the account for more than 20 years. 

Understandably, some personnel changes are out of your control. Individuals leave the company or are let go. The client may also experience some personnel turnover. While these changes can't be planned for, professional service firms and other vendors can control their overall approach to staffing accounts and ensure the priority is always on the continuity of personnel.

2. Business-driven results
In the world of advertising, many agencies measure the success of their ads in terms of industry awards or research (i.e. viewer awareness scores). Agencies often believe they've done a great job when there's a flattering article about their work in a trade publication or when everyone compliments them on how "creative" or "cutting edge" an ad was. Law firms take pride in the quality of their briefs and judgments rendered in court; financial service firms measure themselves by how well they performed against standard measures. 

We're not discounting these measures—they're important. But if you expect a client or customer to become a long-term one, then you had better deliver business-driven results. In our business, we work with clients to measure how a television ad campaign impacts sales in different regions of the country; how it affects distribution of products in stores; how it drives viewers of commercials to websites.
Developing criteria and the means for measuring tangible success metrics can be a challenge. And, there is typically little to no wiggle room if you fall short of your mutually agreed upon goals. Still, it is better to drive toward a realistic goal and be judged on something tangible. This is what cements relationships.

3. Common values
Making your values and philosophies clear from the start is a good way to come to a mutual understanding of the way you and your clients operate, and what is expected from both parties. If there is an obvious disconnect between your respective views of the relationship and its goals, you might think twice about engaging in that relationship altogether. For instance, we look for clients that value transparency and frequent and straightforward communication. We aren't interested in clients who enjoy game-playing, who sugar-coat their comments or who fail to return calls. No doubt, these types of clients aren't interested in us because of our values. When you can find a value match, however, you create bonds with clients that are difficult to break.

Adhering to these three building blocks doesn't guarantee you will hold on to your clients indefinitely. But, it does increase the odds that you will extend the length of your partnerships, in a volatile business environment where relationships seem to last about as long as a Kim Kardashian marriage.

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