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All too often, the managing of clients goes to the back burner especially in a smaller technology consulting company. So much emphasis is placed on getting the work done that little attention is placed on making sure clients are actually happy, dealing with those that are struggling or unhappy, or dealing with those that are making you and your business unhappy.
On top of that, not paying attention to clients beyond getting the current contracted work done leaves money sitting on the table. Literally.
Unfortunately for the masses that like to use “my company is too small to do that” as an excuse, it doesn’t work here at all. If you don’t have a client management system in place, you are just making life difficult for yourself. All you need is 1 client and this applies.
If you haven’t done it already, now is a great time to take a close look at this part of your business. Here are the parts to a solid client management system:
First personal contact- At one point or another, someone from your company will talk to or meet with a potential client after your marketing efforts bring them to your sales process. I’m not talking about a cold call situation but when someone raises their hand in earnest interest of working with your business. Handling this with a set process is key to consistency, starting a relationship on the right foot and seeing if you actually ever want to do business with them. Yes this is a sales system/process issue but I also put it under client management since it is a relationship issue.
Handling calls, emails and visits- Guidelines and policies on engaging a client when they contact your business, when they step into your office or when someone from your business visits them is critical. It’s a part of your company culture and consistency from all those have contact with the people paying your bills is a must. Respect and diplomacy is of utmost importance to make sure they return the favor and continue a good working relationship even when they are unhappy about something. (see the next part below)
Dealing with irate clients- Having in your back pocket for you and employees a way to deal with unhappy clients is truly a good idea and sometimes a life saver as you never really know why they are PO’d unless you ask. Why? Because something small that your business may have done (or not actually done) could have brought down a teetering house of cards belonging to the person on the other end of the phone or email. Having a process in the place to find out the problem, recognize/sympathize with the client and work on a solution that will satisfy them is needed. The client is not always right but getting to the bottom of an issue as calmly as possible allows you to pick your battles wisely.
Billing- Something else that is really from another system (financial) that creeps into client management land is handling invoicing and collecting your well earned money. Not making it clear to clients that you expect to get paid for what you do and in the timeframe that was agreed on is a huge mistake. Many smaller businesses actually fear discussing getting paid. If you don’t establish how your contract works up front and have a process to deliver timely invoices (if you don’t have some kind of auto-pay set up), it’s tough to enforce it later. Unfortunately some clients will take advantage of that when it serves them. Not necessarily to be malicious or exert power, but just because you were the easiest target to play “bank” for them when their cash flow was tight. You are not a bank.
Keeping in touch- This is the piece of client management that all business owners recognize but yet most still don’t actually have a process for. Often this is treated like their marketing systems meaning sporadic, inconsistent or non-existent. This IS part of your marketing system as well as client management system. And it needs a thought out process attached to it. When you hear about both leaving money on the table and selling to existing clients is easier than getting new ones, keeping in touch as a process applies to both.
This process also becomes very important when your business is providing remote and/or preventive type services. When your team is rarely seen, especially when it reflects a good job done, there better be a “hello, how are you” process in place to keep clients from being suspicious of paying for no services being rendered.
Shedding dead weight- Applying the 80/20 rule whenever necessary or at least at the end of every year is an important part of a client management system. Hopefully all of the above items in your system prevented most problem clients from entering your world and kept things professional and under control. But sometimes bad seeds fall through the cracks or clients just become less than desirable over time. Just keep in mind that the goal isn’t to have as many clients as possible. The goal is to have maximum income with minimum effort and headaches. Your bottom 20% is typically not part of that equation so why not make room for a better client or two?
So that’s a solid client management system with the important processes inside of it outlined for you. Get to making this happen. Don’t forget that as long as you have 1 client, you are big enough to have and need a client management system.