A systematic set of activities in which businesses engage in to initiate, maintain and enhance contacts with different stakeholders is referred to as Relationship management. The engagement can be between the clients, industry peers, suppliers and other stakeholders. Given that the customer is very key to the success of any business, many businesses have devised several techniques to optimize the relationships that they have with their (existing and future) clients and be more engaging rather than being just transactional.
“Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.” – Steve Jobs, Founder Apple
We are aware that consumers who feel that a business responds to their needs are more likely to continue using the products and services that a business offers. It also applies that, maintaining a level of communication with consumers allows the business to identify potential sources of costly problems before they actually occur. These benefits and more were highlighted in our previous article on How relationship management can become your competitive advantage. Given the significance of excellent relationship management, and well knowing the various distractions that growing business face such as business development, managing operations and finances, capital raising and other, relationship management has remained an area where business managers are keen to always improve usually with many challenges. We have now gone ahead to share some specific techniques you can use to improve upon your relationship management especially with your clients. Some of tips are;
1. Set your primacies right;
Having previously worked with MTN (a leading telecommunications company across Africa), I noticed something crucial. Customers were segmented; high value customers and other customers are segmented basing on their needs and spend. As an SME you may not have the luxury of segmenting your customers into such categories simply because you want to grow with your already existing customers and of course expand your customer base with time. It is important to understand client needs comprehensively from the start. As expected, client needs vary from individual to individual. You cannot treat your banker the same way you would treat a prospective client. This is not say that you give either of them less priority, rather you use different but appropriate approaches to address their issues and needs. It is easier to know where you can get more referrals from (so you offer a little more attention to such areas) and much easier to build relations when you address all clients differently but most importantly, appropriately.
2. Stay up to date;
As it is with every other relationship, there is a lot of information exchange in business relationships. Your customers, suppliers, even your banker is going to make a lot of decisions based on the information they obtain from you whether it is about financials, investment opportunities or customer needs.
Staying up to date also requires that you maintain accurate information about your business relations and customers.
The important thing here is to maintain credible sources of information whether it is from insider sources of your clients, print media or even social media that will at all times enable your customers as well as clients to trust you.
3. Develop a personal touch to your relationships and keep in touch;
Social media has come to stay! But putting up a post on your blog, tweeting, posting on Facebook and all other forms of social media does not in any way mean that you are having a relationship with your customers. These accounts are run by human beings and people want to know that they are dealing with a human being, not a robot, and here you will be able to get more frequent engagements with your choice of customers as well as other companies. With access to companies’ social media profiles, companies can see where their leads and contacts frequently post. Regularly connect with your key relationships with follow ups through LinkedIn, a company visit set by appointment, a phone call, an email or any other means. It may take a lot of talking before you eventually get to do business with someone.
4. Establish ways of resolving conflict;
Conflict exists in all relationships. Conflicts are bound to happen. Conflict management and conflict resolution will never cease to be important. Business relationships require good communication skills as well as good listening skills. Offering trust, respect for yourself and your business relationships, responsibility and collaboration will reduce friction in your relationships; and when conflict arises, as it sure will, seeking the most appropriate ways to resolve them should have your relationship back on track!
5. Aim to give,not just get;
I have learnt this principle from Brian Ahabwe, our Managing Director here at BLEGSCOPE (U) Ltd. When I joined a few months ago, like many people out there, I thought a business consultant was supposed to be paid for his opinion on anything and everything. Almost 6 months later, Brian still continues to offer professional advice and opinion to dozens of clients without payment. Of course you want to benefit from business relationships but that is more likely to happen if you have a generous attitude. When you give more you get more. More referrals keep coming because of his attitude!
6. Know when to say “YES” and “NO”
After weighing the opportunity the client offers you, say yes to the jobs that are within your capability but will require you to work a little harder than usual. The client will be grateful. The more work you do on the client’s behalf, the more valuable you become. You know the systems, the people, and the culture. Saying yes often makes the client’s job much easier. You must also be aware that often times, clients ask us to do things beyond our capabilities or interests. When these new requests are outside the contract agreement, don’t be afraid to say that the request is outside the scope of your services. Take time to understand both the client’s reason for asking as well as your ability to deliver. Don’t automatically say yes just because the client is always right, the client is a partner in your business.
7. Leverage on Technology
Technology has led to the development of many techniques and automated systems including customer relationship management systems often abbreviated as CRM. In addition to the free software available online, a number of organisations have also invested in such systems and some of them have been able to yield great returns on their investment. Relationship management however, does not stop at customers (CRM) alone. Whether it is your staff, cleaners, suppliers, bankers etc. to mention but a few, relationships need to be first of all built but most importantly managed.
Finally, Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence identifies 6 more techniques in relationship management; Inspire, Influence, Develop others, Initiate change, Manage conflict and Establish teams and collaboration. Combining these techniques will sure help you to build and manage your business relationships better!
By Sarah Achiro
Sarah recently joined BLEGSCOPE®, as an Intern and has worked as a Marketing Executive for Riham Foods. She has interest in finance, accounting and procurement. You can follow her on twitter >> @achirosarah