One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to retain clients and defend the business from competitors. This is because, in many sectors, clients are being constantly pitched to by competitors who are trying to poach business.
In some cases, these competitors will do their research. They will ensure that their pitch offers your client a better service or a saving. So, how do you retain a client against price pressure and better services in this competitive environment?
Make sure you have an account plan
You should already have an account plan in place for each of your clients. This is designed to help you manage the account and defend it from day one. Here you should pinpoint any areas that could go wrong and identify the weak points in the account.
By carrying out this plan you can locate all the vulnerabilities that could undermine your credibility or service, or that could cause an issue down the line. It goes without saying that no client relationship runs smoothly forever, but this process will help the relationship stay strong enough to deal with any issues.
Address your client relationships
Often when you are dealing with a transactional client it can feel less like a business relationship and more like master and servant. Your client tells you what to do and you do it. If you are in a relationship like this, I challenge you to question it.
A client relationship that feels like this will stem from a lack of respect between the client and your business. You need to reestablish the way your client relationship works. Relationships with your clients that work on a master and servant basis will affect your ability to grow as a company.
I know that there are businesses, both big and small, who allow these relationships to form. However, your clients need to understand that they are your partners and that you are in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Improve your client relationships
In business, you should try and actively change or even walk away from transactional client relationships. These sorts of interactions put pressure on your service and fail to bring out the best in your business. Therefore your service ends up falling short of client expectations resulting in a poor working environment and relationship.
By improving your client relationships and moving away from this transactional thinking, you can build stronger, more resilient relationships with your clients. Instead of trying too hard or cover up weak spots, you will be able to have open and honest conversations about where problems are occurring and how to solve them.
It’s all about boundaries and you need to create these boundaries before you secure the client account. Once they’re in place you’ll be able to successfully provide your service, deal with any problem points and meet the expectations of your clients, making them more likely to stick with you when being pitched to by competitors. Your improved customer service and relationship will also help increase your revenue.
Retaining Clients isn’t about keeping ALL your clients
You need to accept that for every client you have, you will lose some at some point. This can be to another business or they might not need you anymore as they’ve moved on or gone out of business.
Yes, this is a cynical way of thinking, but it’s important to realise this when thinking about your account plans. If you understand this then you can keep it in mind when evaluating your client relationships and identifying the weak spots.
From a financial point of view, if a client goes out of business then that can hurt. If your business is dependent on one big client, it can be a dangerous situation but there’s little you can do. If instead, they are moving to use an in-house service, then this is also an issue that you can’t control.
However, losing your clients to another business is something you can prevent. You are in control of retaining your existing clients against poaching. By identifying the weak spots in the account, and within your service, you’re already on the right path.
Take a deeper look at your service
You should be regularly examining the state of your client accounts. Have the weak spots changed? Are you fulfilling the clients’ needs? Be sure to answer these questions and your client should stay happy. If they are satisfied and receiving value each day, they will be very reluctant to change.
That being said, you’ll also need to take a deeper look within your business, exploring the service that you offer and pointing out its flaws. These little points of frustration can be exploited by your competitors. If they realise where your service fails, they will adapt theirs to close that gap.
This is where the danger of your clients getting poached becomes more real. Your competitors will create a product or service that solves the issues that yours created. You might not think your service creates any problems, but if you’ve analysed it well enough you’ll find it. Every service creates additional problems.
Don’t be afraid to change your service
In order to combat these issues, and to make sure you retain clients, you need to be constantly reviewing your service. It’s important to look for any new problems you are creating for your clients and fix these as effectively as possible.
These problems are one of the only reasons that your clients will actively seek alternative services. If you can look for solutions and fix these issues before they become a problem then your clients will have no reason to leave. This acts as a positive add-on that can really have an effect when clients are sensitive to price.
Overall, to defend yourself from competitors you have to think about your account plans, your timescales, your communications, your customer service and your weak spots. That’s the innovative way to keep your clients happy. If you don’t do it, your competitors will and you will start losing accounts.