Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Old Clients Become New Clients

It’s happened to all of us. A solid, ongoing client relationship suddenly gets turned on its head when your client tells you she is leaving the company you’ve been working with for years.  After cursing, you ponder what will happen. Who will be the new client? Will you keep the business? Still enjoy the relationship? How much effort will this take? What should you do?

While client departures occur regularly we always seem surprised. It’s change after all and it’s usually sudden. And the implications can be significant. Do you have a set process to deal with these situations? Probably not.  Maybe the list below can be the start of one for your firm, or you can use it to check against one that does exist. The goal: client retention and a new, healthy client relationship.
  • Know it’s coming. Most client departures come as a surprise, but should they? If you’ve done your homework on the relationship dynamics in your client’s organization, you should know your client’s influence, job satisfaction and whether she a rising star or on her way out.  Essentially, you are trying to assess the risk level of the client relationship. Based on this intelligence there should be a plan in place to address a client’s potential departure.  What other relationships need to be established? Who are the up and comers that might take over? How well is your firm and its work known?
  • Treat it as a new pursuit. Unfortunately, a new client means a new sales effort. Researching the new client’s background is essential, including, for example, knowing what competitors they’ve worked with in the past. Then, there should be a full court press trying to influence the client to keep you as their partner, educating them about your work, as well as developing a solid personal relationship. They need to know your vast knowledge of their company and their industry.
  • Assess the client’s power.  When a new player comes on the client scene it’s good to check whether they are simply taking over from the old client or if there has been a change in the position and organizational structure. Does the new client have more authority and responsibility?  Or less? Knowing this impacts how you develop the relationship and whether there are others in the company you need to start paying attention to.
  • Assess the client’s readiness.  A new client can come into their position with a boatload of comparable experience or they might be novices on their way up.  Or this might be a lateral move. The key is to understand their skill and will to perform the new job. Have they done this kind of work for years and are just buying time or are they eager beavers looking to make a mark? Understanding client readiness will dictate how you develop the relationship, maybe from a respectful distance or direct and close up.
  • Prove your value. All of the tactics above need to result in a new client liking you and understanding that the work you’ve performed has been successful for their company. Ultimately, the client should feel that your continued presence is critical for their success. 

Make the time. This may seem obvious, but the underpinning for a successful transition from old client to new client is dedicating necessary time and effort. Even though the whirlwind of business activity surrounds you, relationship building, slow and sure, requires a deliberate set of actions and follow through. There are no short cuts here, but the payoff for client retention speaks for itself.