Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future – John F. Kennedy
Change is inevitable, and it can damage your relationship with your clients if you’re not prepared for it.
But when managed effectively, change can be an opportunity to create a better and stronger dynamic in your relationships. The key is to recognise change, understand its opportunities and challenges, review your relationships and keep the lines of communication open.
Anticipate changes and challenges
A recent study of client/agency relationships found that 56 per cent of agencies blame client management changes for the breakdown of a relationship. But are these management changes really an excuse for a relationship breakdown?
Most of the time the answer is no. A management change (such as a change in personnel or a change in business process) in your client’s company is manageable. The trick is to anticipate change, evaluate the effect it may have on your relationship and work on agreed solutions.
You may anticipate a change in your relationship with your client if:
- Their company has recently undergone a merger or acquisition.
- There have been lots of changes in other teams and departments.
- They simply don’t have the time to communicate with you often.
- Their business processes, or systems, have altered.
- There’s a change in who deals with your company (perhaps your new point of contact isn’t as well informed as the last).
Some changes are inevitable. However, it’s how you deal with them that determines whether or not your client relationship will last.
Structure your relationships
In order to manage change in your client relationships, you’ll need to create a culture of regular review and introspection. This means formalising the relationship to some extent, and appointing the right people to do so.
Try to engage the right decision makers and influencers on both sides of the relationship. Give each client a diverse range of ‘account managers’ – people who are personally invested in their business and whom your clients trust. Likewise, clients must appoint engaged, transparent and passionate people to negotiate these changes and their implications.
Here are some techniques for structuring your relationships:
- Whoever manages your clients must try to build a personal, trust-based relationship with their point of contact.
- Make sure your account managers, on both sides, regularly keep in contact. Set up frequent calls or meetings with one another and ensure you keep yourselves in the loop.
- Have reoccurring internal client reviews.
- Respond promptly to client emails and calls.
- If your previous account manager for a client has left, try to ensure whoever follows in their footsteps is given as much insight as possible. Your clients should not have to deal with managers who do not know their business well.
Have ‘state of the nation’ conversations
The biggest and most collaborative ‘review’ your client and yourself can do together is meet in person and discuss potential impacts of changes or challenges.
Ensure you set up ‘state of the nation’ conversations regularly, depending on how often you need them. These conversations are a way to get everything out in the open, be transparent about changes and mend problems before they start to fester.
During these conversations, ask your client the right questions with the‘4 Cs’ (context, challenge, consequence and conclusion). Try to listen to your client’s challenges, ask them what the consequences of not addressing these challenges are, and then work out how to fix these issues.
Additionally, it’s important that you give your clients confidence. If they’re concerned about a change on your end, make them feel at ease and discuss how the change may benefit them in the long run.
You should be able to come out of the meeting feeling hopeful about the future of your relationship, not more anxious about it.
Be on the front foot
Managing change in client relationships lies in the quality of your partnership and the regularity and transparency of your meetings. But it also lies in your ability to measure a relationship and predict changes or challenges. So be open, be honest and always be on the front foot.