Although producing a high-quality product or service that consumers want or need is essential to a successful, sustainable family business model, there’s yet another component that shouldn’t be overlooked: building authentic client relationships. Building a genuine, one-to-one relationship with your client base is arguably as critical to the longevity of your business as having a solid business plan, working capital, liquidity, and a stellar online presence.
Why is it so important?
Building client relationships is important to not only your sales but also client attrition, referrals, and retention. The stats reinforce this. In a recent survey, over 80% of customers indicated they would do business with an organization again if they felt they had received personalized customer service. Conversely, 76% of customers would stop doing business with an organization if the customer service wasn’t up-to-parˡ.
“I think the need to have close-knit relationships transcends industries. People do business with people and the more people you know, the more opportunities there are for you,” said Joe Ambrose, Executive Director of the First Bank Center for Family-Owned Businesses and long-term First Bank team member. When Ambrose started his career at First Bank over 30 years ago, he quickly realized the importance of building authentic relationships with his clients. “This wasn’t something I planned to do or some technique I had learned in college, it’s just the way I am wired. I’ve used the phrase ‘polite persistence’ over the years. You have to stay in touch with prospects in order to build great relationships with them as clients.”
In the St. Louis community, Ambrose is trusted by many individuals and family business leaders. Ambrose reflected fondly on his years of developing close client relationships that often turned into friendships.
“I’ve always had the mindset that it’s certainly good to know people,” he added. “The connections I’ve made over the years may not directly lead to a new client relationship; however, if I can make connections to help someone solve a problem, they will almost always remember who helped them. It may lead to a referral or a new opportunity in the future. One of our best, long-term relationships at First Bank took seven years of polite persistence to develop. We finally won their business after I had made numerous referrals to them. They finally realized I wasn’t just interested in making a sale, but I actually wanted to help them grow their business!”
What steps should family businesses take to get to know their clients better?
1. Schedule time to meet or touch base regularly. Find a convenient time to meet. “I found it easier to schedule a breakfast, lunch, or dinner with clients and prospects rather than take up time during their busy work day,” said Ambrose. He added that it’s all about making it convenient for them, even if that means meeting before or after standard work hours or during a meal.
2. Deliver a consistent, quality brand and experience. Your business brand should be your personal brand as well. To your clients, you are the company you represent. From start to finish, always deliver a consistent, high-quality customer experience.
3. Maintain honest, open communication and set reasonable expectations. “Always shoot straight with your clients and prospects,” added Ambrose. “Whether it’s good news or bad news, they need to hear it from you personally: not in an email or on a voicemail.”
4. Become a trusted resource and conduit of information for your clients. Don’t always be selling your clients something. He added that you should focus on your clients’ needs, find out what is causing them friction in their daily routines, and determine how you can best help them.
5. Under-promise and over deliver customer service. Ambrose commented that this is non-negotiable! You should always manage reasonable expectations with your clients, but leave room to over deliver customer service.
“I seldom say, ‘never’. The exception is that I never take the approach that I have something to sell and I’m looking for someone to buy it. Truly understanding a prospect’s wants and needs only comes from developing a relationship with them. This will organically lead to providing tangible solutions for them in the future. Keep in mind, your prospect may not need a specific solution you offer, so you should work to find a solution, even it means referring him or her to a close contact that’s outside of your industry,” he said. “That’s where having a developed network and a trusted center of influence is essential.”
Keep in mind, satisfied customers are more likely to refer someone to you or your organization and become a repeat customer. There are many competitors in nearly every industry and space, so setting yourself apart from the rest is essential. Building and maintaining authentic, one-on-one client relationships is just one more way in which you can set yourself apart. “I think it’s critical for all companies to expand and diversify their customer base,” he added. “That only happens by meeting new people and that won’t happen by sitting at your desk waiting for the phone to ring.”
Ambrose added that you have to stay connected to people that you want as a client. They have to get to know you before they will trust you. “While I don’t necessarily view getting to know someone with the expectation that it will turn into a business relationship, I do believe there are two kinds of people in the world: clients and prospects.”
Let us help you expand your network and client base. Reach out to First Bank’s Center for Family-Owned Businesses today.