As a business owner or team lead, you may like the fact that some clients prefer to work with you over others in your organization. It's a testament to your professional skills and your ability to earn trust. In many cases, yours is the only advice they will seek or accept and you feel responsible for their well being as they continue to play a large role in your success.
The benefits of staying close to your key clients and solidifying their trust in you include great referral sources, the potential for ongoing revenue growth, and client retention. However, the time you allocate to them can add up quickly. While you enjoy the work you do for them, lunches, socializing outside of work, fielding their questions that take time to resolve, and having them top of mind can distract you from focusing on other clients and building your business.
The sooner you begin to wean them off you and on to your trusted team, the faster your business will grow.
Here are five tips to help you encourage clients to work with other members of your team.
#1: Start at the beginning
When you take on a new client, show them you appreciate their business by personally orienting them to your business and your business process. Have them meet your team during a brief tour of your company. During a smaller meeting with them, have another team member present who will be doing the lion's share of their work. From the start, they will appreciate that they have your attention while drawing on several key professionals who will be working on their behalf, not just one.
#2: Be honest with clients who are taking up increasing amounts of your time
Explain to these clients that even though your role within your business is changing, you will always maintain a close watch to ensure their business needs are being met. Explain that your organization works hard to build "bench strength" and you would like your client to benefit. Arrange a lunch or meeting with the person or team who will be taking on more responsibility for managing their business with your organization. Over the weeks that follow, make sure things are going well. Don't cease communication with the client, but reduce contact with them gradually over a three-month period. You don't want them to think you are ignoring them. Attend all key meetings with them and maintain your leadership presence.
#3: What to do when clients take it personally
You've just told a client that you can no longer meet twice monthly for lunch and that you'll have talk on the phone more frequently instead of meeting face-to-face.
If he or she asks, "So, does this mean you don't have time for me any more? I helped you build your business, after all."
Consider responding with, "Your well-being and that of your business will always be a priority for me and my colleagues. We have complete faith in our team members who will be working more closely with you."
You don't need to justify your business reasons for your comments - the client should appreciate that you cannot be in two places at once. Make it about "We" not "I" when talking about the quality work your firm will continue to provide to the client. However you choose to communicate it, the client needs to know you are not their full time personal advisor.
#4: Stop over-servicing your key clients
Over servicing clients can be personally satisfying and help you build client loyalty. It's easy to justify focusing on a few clients as it can help you develop business skills and ideas you can apply to other clients and prospects. But it can also be very expensive when you consistently give a client more than they are paying for - even if you don't have other billable work at the time. (A client may take you for granted if they feel you're working for free, regardless of how much cash flow they generate for your business. And they may wonder where your other clients are - and how many you really have.)
Once a client realizes you now bill fully for your time and the freebies are over, they may be more willing to work with other members of your team. Your courage in curbing your urge to please and finally treating your business as a business will soon pay off in reduced stress and increased revenue.
#5. Trust your team
A time consuming client may have been the foundation of your business. You feel that no one will ever understand how he or she ticks and you don't want to risk having a colleague upset them and lose their business. Successful business owners and managers realize that their way is not the only way.
Sharing key clients is a good way to motivate employees and enhance their loyalty to you and your organization. Giving up a little control further positions you as a leader who places the organization's growth before your ego. (Often, this is easier said than done.)
The way you communicate to a 'sticky" client that you are no longer able to give them the time and attention you once did depends on the strength of your relationship with the client and the degree of "stickiness" in the relationship. Good clients respect honesty. If you are honest (and they respect you and your professional skills), constructively putting a little distance between you both may turn out to be a bold but effective client retention strategy.
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