Clients leave when they feel that their needs aren’t being met. The strength of your client-partner relationship relies on a deep understanding of your client’s needs. As an account leader, you are your client’s primary point of contact.
You need to build rapport and remain in touch and aware of everything happening. At every stage of client development, there are different approaches and requirements. It’s important to analyze your relationships and ensure they’re successfully moving across the client-partner lifecycle.
The lifecycle of the client-partner relationship
Ideally, the lifecycle of a client-partner relationship begins at acquisition and continues on from there. However, not every relationship goes through every stage of development. Some will be market-based, antagonistic, and at arms’ length forever. Some have short or extremely long lifecycles, while others develop quickly (or even skip phases).
Once you understand the lifecycle stage of your client-partner relationships, you can begin to manage, analyze, and develop them appropriately.
Brand-new accounts. At this point, we know very little about them. Transactions have a market basis and are centered on product exchange and price negotiations. It is at this stage we need to determine if this account has potential. And if it does, to secure initial projects.
Early accounts. During onboarding, we have investigated the possibility of a relationship and formed social bonds. We must work to identify key contacts, buying personas, the decision-making process, and advocate key account status.
Developed accounts. Here, we have an increased level of connection, inter-organizational linkages, social ties, collaborative teams, and a strong emergence of trust. Our focus is on sales, account penetration, new revenue channels, increased business volume, and hidden pain points.
Loyal accounts. We have projects moving toward a common goal and increased interdependence. At this stage, our focus is building the partnership, focusing on process-related problems, becoming a first-tier vendor partner, and establishing undemanding offerings.
Partner accounts. We are extremely close to the organization. Together, we are focused on joint value creation, establishing semi-autonomous project teams, and establishing a cultural accord.
Troubled accounts. We notice work stopping or slowing, lines of sight into future work has become blocked, and the relationship is leveling down. We focus on maintaining existing buyer relationships, keeping updated with industry and client news, and looking for new opportunities.
Analyzing your client-partner relationships
Competitive advantage is achieved not just by managing individual efforts, but by managing clients. This is best done by solving their problems. The ability to solve client needs at the lowest possible cost with timely delivery is the path to entering that market. This is the end goal of the account leaders.
When analyzing your client-partner relationships, consider:
- What stage has the account reached?
- What is the potential for its growth?
- What strategies can we leverage to support this account?
- What product-line issues can we pinpoint that are a priority for this client?
- What process-related issues can we pinpoint that are a priority for the client?
As an account leader, your goal is to appropriately advance the client-partner relationship to anticipate and suit your client’s needs. By building relationships and remaining conscientious of the client-partner relationship, you can better analyze the status of your accounts and develop them toward your mutual goals.
Managing your client-partner relationships
To effectively manage relationships with your customers, focus on solving specific problems associated with various levels of rapport. When trust is still being built, concentrate on projects with high impact that have lighter effort.
At the most basic level, clients come to us to solve problems. Most times, they are trying to resolve issues related to product functionality. These are product-related issues that can be resolved with respect to performance and compliance with specifications.
On another level, our service is integrated into our clients’ value-added process. The fit of the solution, the method of delivery, and the technology used all influence the buyer’s process. Issues related to integrating our value into the buyer’s value chain are process-related issues.
At the highest level, customers are striving to achieve their own strategic goals in their markets. These are facilitation-related problems. Facilitation-related issues relate to aligning strategic objectives with clients, creating mutual value, building trust, and integrating systems and people.