Protecting Your Engine of Success: Client Relationships

Protecting Your Engine of Success: Client Relationships


Time to Read: 5 Min

Tim Sanders

Strong client relationships are likely one of your top priorities as an advisor. The metaphor I use for them is the engine: built to last and a source of great power. When relationships are running on all cylinders, we gain client attention, trust, loyalty and referral. But much like an engine, without proper care, they can and will break down.

Over the course of my career, I've developed a client relationship strategy that's focused on maintenance, monitoring and repair. You should never assume that consistent financial performance will preserve relationships over time — in fact, much of what you'll need to manage is client emotions. To quote Maya Angelou: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Maintenance

Your maintenance program begins with establishing and then updating your shared expectations: what both of you expect out of the relationship. Often, you establish financial outcome expectations, but you'd also be wise to clarify your response times, how you'll deliver information and what success looks like overall. Managing client expectations prevents surprise, which is only a positive emotional experience when followed by the phrase "happy birthday!"

To strengthen your relationship, connect with your clients at the passion-to-passion level. Do you know what your clients love to do with their spare time? Have you asked what their current "wow project" is these days? Have you shared yours with them in casual conversation? Deeper Media research last year revealed that when you share your most personal interests with each other, tactical mistakes don't lead to serious relationship problems. Just like you would with a friend, your client goes out of his or her way to forgive you or explain away the misunderstanding.

Monitoring

You know the "dummy lights" that go on when your car is running too hot or low on oil? In client relationships there are just as obvious ones you need to monitor. The first indication of a problem is a communication breakdown between you and the client. They don't return phone calls or emails. When you do get in contact, they won't agree to the next meeting. Sure, they're likely busy, and you're only one of many clamoring for attention, but you need to pay attention to this pattern. Andrew Sobel, author of Clients for Life, puts it this way: "If you think you have a good relationship but the client says, 'There's nothing going on. It doesn't make sense to meet,' that's still a bad sign. It means they don't really value your ongoing insight and perspective."

You should never assume that consistent financial performance will preserve relationships over time — much of what you'll need to manage is client emotions.

Pay attention to warning signs of client mistrust. You can usually tell by body language or facial expressions when your clients believe you and buy into the advice you're giving. When they conduct their own research to verify your claims, it usually means you aren't seen as a trusted advisor. "Another symptom of a failing relationship is that people will bring in third parties to confirm their suspicions about the other person," says Brian Uzzi, professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management. When your clients invite their best friend, son or neighbor to 'sit in' on one of your meetings, th is often signals something is wrong.

These are subtle warning signs of a relationship that's losing power, but there are also clear signals that should grab your attention like the sound of grinding gears. When you hear anger in a client's voice, he or she pulls out your agreement to review terms or refers to how your competitors would serve him or her differently, your relationship is clearly overheating.

Repair

The good news is that you can repair relationships if you act quickly and thoughtfully. When you fear a breakdown is imminent, find a way to have a real-time conversation with your client to co-locate the cause of the difficulty. When your key signal is a lack of communication, you may need to be persistent to have that conversation, but with tenacity and creativity you can make it happen.

When Alyssa DeMattos was charged with bringing back CareerBuilder staffing group's largest client, she had to innovate to have the 'what happened' conversation. Her calls and emails went unanswered for weeks. She learned of a charity golf tournament the client's company put on each year, so she attended it as a sponsor. To ensure she would get some executive face time, she volunteered to be a server on the beverage cart that refreshed attendees at each hole. By the end of the day, she was invited to attend a dinner that evening with the president of the client company's largest division. This kick-started a series of frank conversations that identified what really went wrong, how the two companies could work together again and where the starting point might be.

Once you have a good understanding of why the client is pulling away from you, it's important to own up to your part of the problem and, when necessary, apologize empathetically. Don't focus on making excuses, but instead, seek out how you can make up lost ground with the client. In many situations, your clients merely want to be heard, and when they are, the negative feelings evaporate.

In the event that you can't get face or phone time to source the problem and hear it out, send a handwritten note or thoughtful card to express how much you value the relationship. If possible, include a detail about a time you two have found agreement or collaborated to solve a problem. Sometimes, it's the little touches like this that can be the spark to get things going again.

In some cases, when the relationship totally breaks down, the best solution is to give your client time to cool off. For my latest book, I interviewed several business leaders who brought back major clients after severe misunderstandings. In almost every case, they referred to the cooling-off period as a key part of their strategy. Later, when they attempted to re-contact the client, usually with a fresh offer or relevant piece of insight, they were able to sit down, have a frank talk about the situation and resume the relationship.

It's no fun to have relationship breakdowns, and it's not that easy to repair them. But there's an upside to the process of working through relationship misfires with clients, even those where strong feelings were expressed. Susan David, author of Emotional Agility, explains it this way: "Going through difficult experiences can be the makings of the strongest, most resilient relationships."

Key Takeaways

  • Stay mindful of your client's expectations, talk about them openly and, when necessary, reset them to reality.
  • Pay attention to warning signs of a relationship going bad, be it distance, a lack of trust or the expression of negative emotions.
  • Find the root cause of the relationship issue and, whenever possible, accept your part of the blame without excuse.
  • Make a gesture to your client that demonstrates your commitment to the relationship. Whenever possible, add a personal touch.

Tim Sanders

Author and expert on motivation, emotional talent and sales innovation

Tim is the author of five books including the New York Times bestseller Love Is the Killer App: How to win Business & Influence Friends. Tim was the Chief Solutions Officer for Yahoo, as well as their Leadership Coach.

View all articles by Tim »


The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors. Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC.

 

Receive human-centric insights by email:

Hartford Funds is not responsible for, and does not validate, any information, opinions, assertions, or statements expressed within these articles, or the identity or credentials of the individuals communicating through the site. Some of the articles may contain links to information created and maintained by other, unaffiliated organizations and individuals. Hartford Funds does not control, cannot guarantee, and is not responsible for the completeness, accuracy, timeliness, or the continued availability or existence of this outside information or the information presented herein. This material is intended for use by financial professionals or in conjunction with the advice of a financial professional.

Check the background of this firm/individual on FINRA's BrokerCheck.

121127

The material on this site is for informational and educational purposes only. The material should not be considered tax or legal advice and is not to be relied on as a forecast. The material is also not a recommendation or advice regarding any particular security, strategy or product. Hartford Funds does not represent that any products or strategies discussed are suitable for any particular investor so investors should seek their own professional advice before investing. Content is current as of the publication date or date indicated, and may be superseded by subsequent market and economic conditions.


All investments are subject to risk, including the possible loss of principal. Investors should carefully consider a fund's investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses. This and other important information is contained in the mutual fund or ETF prospectus and summary prospectus (if available), which can be obtained from a financial professional and should be read carefully before investing.



Hartford Funds refers to Hartford Funds Management Group, Inc., and its subsidiaries, including the mutual funds' and active ETFs' investment manager, Hartford Funds Management Company, LLC (HFMC), the mutual funds' distributor, Hartford Funds Distributors, LLC (HFD), Member FINRA/SIPC as well as Lattice Strategies LLC (Lattice), a wholly owned subsidiary of HFMC, which serves as the investment adviser to strategic beta exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Certain funds are sub-advised by Wellington Management Company LLP or Schroder Investment Management North America Inc. Schroder Investment Management North America Ltd. serves as a secondary sub-adviser to certain funds. All ETFs are distributed by ALPS Distributors, Inc. (ALPS). Hartford Funds is not affiliated with any fund sub-adviser or ALPS. The funds and other products referred to on this Site may be offered and sold only to persons in the United States and its territories.

© Copyright 2017 Hartford Funds Management Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Not FDIC Insured | No Bank Guarantee | May Lose Value