How do you define Client Relationship Management (CRM) in your business? What does it look like in your day to day operations?
First, let's talk about your leads. Rather than focus on how you generate leads in this article, we will review what to do once they are in your database or CRM software to nurture and develop those leads. Consider the sales process as being similar to making a new friend or dating - it is important to have that mindset at this stage of the client relationship.
The first email or phone call made to connect with a lead should be relevant to any inquiry made by that lead. Just like on a first date, you start from what you know. If that lead came in from a whitepaper he download, then (logically) you want to follow-up to check in to see if the information was valuable and answer any questions. That is quite different from a blanket sales pitch sent out to all leads who opted in at some point. Communicate with the lead based on information that you already know about him or her (without being creepy) because it shows that you are paying attention. Simple, but it's effective.
One of the reasons you see many consultants and education firms offer a freebie or free consultation is because we realize people want to "test-drive" the relationship. We create opportunities for leads to evaluate us. The best way to represent your business in that situation is by truly offering something valuable.
What does that mean? Something Valuable? If you can do an online search for a giveaway item you want to offer and there are 10 other companies giving it away for free, then it might not actually be valuable. Take into consideration that it should be something that is at least somewhat unique to your brand AND it can be useful to your target client.
Example 1: 4Imprint will send a free sample of ANY product to you so that you can evaluate that promotional product for use in your business.
Example 2: Legal in a Box offers detailed legal insights in their blog posts to reflect their expertise. You can read through a blog and decide if you trust them enough to subscribe to their services.
This may be obvious to you, but I'll say it anyway. It is so easy to waste time on unqualified leads and it truly hurts your business. Identify the qualities of your best leads. Look at your customer personas and see where personality, money, demographics, etc line up. Those leads should be your top priority. The qualified leads are those who deserve a custom communications experience.
Understanding who my qualified leads are was a HUGE factor in my decision to use a CRM software in my business. I was able to translate my ideas of qualifying a lead into different kinds of automation and rules to highlight those people. This can be done with tools such as Lead Scoring, the use of custom fields, and automated workflows based on different activities.
[ Ask me for details about this and I can go deeper]
If you have ever worked in the technology industry, this is the weakness of all novice tech sales people. They fall in love with the features of a software or widgets in their hardware, then they try to sell that to the lead. I love the enthusiasm. This kind of selling is a total waste of time, especially when you are early on in the relationship with a lead.
Your job as a marketer or a sales person is to sell the dream to your leads. Generate content and a sales script that shows you understand the pain points and ultimate dream of your end client. Hawaiian Airlines does not sell seats by listing their airplane's safety features. They sell the destination of paradise. Focus on the dream, paradise and you will get better results.
Let's shift gears to look at our existing client relationships. To me, this is where the magic happens. I truly believe that if you take care of your people that they will take care of you. It has been my mantra since... forever, and it has served my business well. Clients are my best referral contacts and social proof.
Love your clients and they will return the love.
Over the years, I've made the mistake of having a long delay between communications with clients. It was never intentional. Simply put, life was moving quickly and I suddenly realized 2 weeks later that I had not spoken with this client or that one. Infrequent communication or inconsistent communication with clients leads to distrust.
The best operational practice that we put into place is have a set schedule with each client about what and when we communicate. That may be a bi-weekly meeting or a weekly email update (or both). Whatever is decided upon with the client is followed. And the format of the communication is consistent. This may be in the form of a meeting agenda that is a familiar outline or an email style with a similar checklist. Clients appreciate this consistency. Frankly, it keeps everyone up to date.
Clients are not robots or machines. These are real people with real lives, so we also make time to talk with them about non-business or task-oriented topics from time to time. Set clear boundaries in your mind, but do not be afraid to connect with someone. You may not want to share the details of your recent divorce with the client. Though you may want to simply share that you are going through difficult family times.
Being transparent, open, and honest with a client (especially a long-time client) can make a world of difference. You will develop a certain kind of friendship with him or her. That is not a bad thing. Some of my favorite friends are those I've met through business. Again, remember to set boundaries about what is a healthy share and an over-share. You can set the precedent for it.
Maybe you are in the midst of a project with a client and the reports are telling you that it is not going well. That is okay. We are always learning and growing, so these reports present an opportunity for you to adjust something and move in a new direction. That is what a client ultimately has hired you to do - be the honest expert.
When your KPIs or benchmark reports tell you that your work is not successful, tell the client that information. However, go in to that meeting prepared with a proactive plan. This is what is not working, here is my hypothesis, and this is what we recommend doing next. Your honesty and proactive attitude speaks volumes about your ability to troubleshoot and find solutions.
Every year, quarter and month are good times to set or reset goals with your client. These should be mutual goals. The client has a business goal of X. You provide service Y. What will your services do to help your client achieve the business goal of X? Hash this out in detail, be realistic. Come up with SMART goals together for each project or time period. Include goals related to your relationship as well. This may be a goal of setting up weekly calls to keep each other updated or a monthly report to evaluate how things are going.
Almost as important as setting goals is to watch and review them as you go. Remember to check in on your progress at different points in time. The best approach to this is to start with a larger goal (i.e. 6 Months from now we want to increase revenue by 30% with this new widget). Work backwards from that goal. Where do you need to be 5 months from now to get to that goal? How about 3 months from now? What about 2 weeks from now? Do the math, document it, and share it with the client.
If you were to rate yourself on the quality of your client relationships on a scale of 1 to 10, where do you think your business lies? Perhaps you are struggling to honestly reach a 5 or 6 because you are a small business and juggling too many things right now. Or maybe you give yourself a failing rating that is closer to the 1. Pick ONE thing you can do this week that can improve your rating. Do that one thing for 30 days straight. If it makes a difference, then you may see value in adding another improvement to your CRM Strategy.
When you begin to prioritize client relationships over the tasks that make a low impact (such as that next Instagram post), the results just about smack you in the face - with a smile. Operational improvements like these take time, so give yourself that flexibility to take on one new thing each month until you land in a place where you can see the positive changes.