When someone is only after the sale, you can usually tell. But if someone you do business with slows down and takes the time to build a relationship, that’s saying something.
Now, I’m not talking sleazy salesman shtick: wooing others as a kind of con game, or feigning friendship to churn through clients and cement the next deal. Given the real thing—someone developing a long-term interest in you, your life, your hopes and goals and vice versa—how much more likely are you to stick around and give that person your business? How much more likely are you to refer them to others, seek their advice, and even show them grace when they inevitably make a mistake?
Ultimately you do business with people, and doing business with people requires relationships.
Put Client Relationships Front and Center
However you slice it, relationships matter.
In professional services, like accounting and law firms, the tenure of your relationship with a client speaks, to a large degree, to the health of your firm. A client who’s been with you ten, fifteen, or even thirty years attests to how much value you’ve delivered for them. Rather, a firm’s clients are there for a few months or a year at best and then gone, that’s a high churn rate…and that attests to very different, and usually more selfish priorities.
I’ll put it this way—the quality of a firm’s relationships is an accurate gauge of its performance, longevity, and overall success.
In other words, manipulating people, churning through them, and burning bridges when you’re done with them does not work—not in business, not in branding, and certainly not in life.
To keep things in a business framework, I’ll make this claim: the primary goal in business should always be to build long-lasting, quality relationships.
In a branding framework, relationships are just as important. To the extent that a remarkable, memorable brand identity helps you build quality relationships (and that’s no small extent), there’s a clear reason why—and it comes down to your brand’s ability to connect with people as authentically and consistently as possible.
It’s True… Just Ask Hollywood
Don’t believe me?
Just ask Hollywood… and no, I’m not being sarcastic. In a zany, funny, – if at times painful – mid-nineties fashion, the sports comedy Jerry Maguire fleshes this principle out. Like most movies, it pivots around relationships and what they ultimately unlock for people.
The movie kicks off with Jerry (Tom Cruise), a hard-hitting professional sports agent at the top of his game. With a big name and reputation, and more clients than he can count, he’s living large… but he has zero interest in anyone but himself. When Jerry sees one of his clients seriously injured from playing too hard on his advice, and the stress and suffering of the client’s family, he turns a one eighty. Determined to represent fewer clients and build better, long-term relationships with them, he goes from being top dawg at his sleazy sports talent agency to a pariah. Soon, he’s fired. His career and reputation are toast. When the smoke clears, he’s left with one client—the loud, determined, but less-than-likable wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.).
In a story arc that brought five Oscar nominations and a supporting actor win for Cuba, Jerry and Rod forge a genuine relationship. Through sticking together, being honest, and hashing out their differences, the unlikely pair go from being down on their luck—Jerry’s confidence is shattered, while Rod’s poor attitude makes the Arizona Cardinals hesitant to pay him what he’s worth—to seizing the spotlight, and showing the entire sports management industry a much better way.
In the end, and putting aside the iconic, overused catch phrases that came from the movie (‘help me help you’ is one of them) it’s a splendid reminder of how important relationships are. Through Jerry Maguire’s journey, we see that caring for people, in such a way that they don’t feel disconnected and undervalued, builds mutual trust.
Jerry’s hunch that forging a real relationship with his client is the best possible strategy turns out to be true.
Relationship Quality is Business Quality
I can’t stress this enough.
While it’s not the same, or at least, not as dramatic, as having one famous client and staking your whole future on that client’s multi-million dollar contract with an NFL team, the concept is clear enough. To a large extent, the quality of your business hovers around the quality of your business relationships.
This isn’t to say that business isn’t ever done with poor, shallow, or nonexistent relationships…a lot of it is. But without quality relationships, it’s hard to do it well or in a lasting, fruitful, and ultimately mutually beneficial way. Obviously you need to do business. Like anyone, you need clients, profits, and money to survive. Of course, new leads make that possible and, in a busy, cutthroat market, you probably won’t be building a relationship with even a small portion of them.
But having said all that, where do profits come from?
Try a happy client. Or at the least, a satisfied customer. Someone paying you for a job well done. Fact is, in almost any industry, strong relationships are great for business.
How, you ask?
Let’s Count the Ways
Think of the last time you took your car to the shop. Did you take it to someone you know, or at least to a service company you’ve been to before? Perhaps… but unless it’s a brand new car or unless you had a recent, terrible experience with your old mechanic, I’m willing to bet you went someplace you’re familiar with.
I’m not suggesting you have some kind of close, deep-seated relationship with your car mechanic…some people have that but it’s certainly not common. The point I’m making is that in business, quality relationships are a kind of shorthand for trust, reliability, and positive experience.
There’s nothing wrong with going with someone new… but it comes with risks. A brand that doesn’t treat you like a transaction, that delivers as promised, and at the very least, provides some kind of personal connection in the form of customer service, enhances your perception of it, and for good reason. When time and money are on the line and you’re weighing options, it’s of course, less costly and risky to go with someone you know and trust.
Depending on the relationship, you might think nothing of driving a long distance (and paying more in terms of gas or time) to see a family doctor you’ve known for years. Or a dentist, a car mechanic, or even a tax specialist you know and trust. On the professional level, I use this kind of relationship-history shorthand in my own day-to-day business. Whether it’s a CPA, a graphic designer, or even an SEO expert who lives overseas, there’s certain folks that I’ve worked with forever. I like what they do, I know they’re reliable, and even more, we’ve built a quality, working relationship over time.
This is why every business should slow down, think about it, and say yes.
Yes, I would love to build strong relationships with my clients. Yes, I want to build the kind of relationship that makes clients so satisfied and delighted, that they’re unofficial spokesmen for my firm.
If you think about it, this relationship power is higher than average for professional service firms. If you’re an accounting group, an engineering firm, or even a business consultancy, your services operate on mutual trust, information sharing, side-by-side partnership, and a lot of communication. Your relationship with your client touches all of those things—typically, the better the quality of the client relationship, the better, and longer, the business relationship.
Over time, firms grow and perform as a result of the quality of those relationships.
Every Relationship Has a Foundation
If you don’t consider yourself a relationship hot shot, then don’t worry. My second big takeaway on the topic of business and client relationships is good news… and a principle that we’re very familiar with at Resound:
On your end (because it takes two to tango) building a quality relationship with your clients and your audience boils down to one thing—being who you authentically, remarkably are.
I put it this way simply because so many challenging goals wiggle their way into the branding, marketing, and brand identity seat. Sales metrics, deals in the works, deals closed, promotional campaigns…and while you’re at it, add social media shares, likes, and Tik Tok trends to the things that never stop vying for our attention.
For all the noise, and whatever the metrics show, you should be thinking about building great relationships with your clients. Building great relationships means showing up for them, and consistently showing them your authentic self.
Just remember, it’s the relationship that ultimately matters.
Relationships Leverage Brand Perception
I could say a lot more about how to help your firm discover its authentic identity—and in fact, I already have. My book ‘You Are Remarkable’ goes into the ins and outs of building a clear, winsome brand based on the authentic truths that make you remarkable.
Suffice to say (and not to downplay any part of the branding process), your brand’s authentic identity plays into every aspect of your firm’s perception, interactions, and most importantly, relationships. This even holds true in the increasingly digital world, when someone’s first impression of you is much more likely to be through an ad, a search result, a podcast, or even a social media feed.
Even when someone’s never heard of you or interacted with you, they might need your firm’s service. When they do, and when your name pops up in an article, a piece of content, or even a Google review, your brand’s perception and reputation are already going to work. In effect, and if you really think about it, before you meet a new client online or in person, those things are actually standing in your place at the start of the relationship.
So how does authentic identity play into that when you don’t have that personal touch yet? When there’s tons of competition, and a digital wall between you and potential clients, how does a relationship based on authentic identity fit into that?
While that’s a fairly big topic, let me offer a direct answer.
Consistency and brand personality.
Can You Elaborate?
I’d love to.
Across every digital touchpoint that might potentially begin a relationship with a client, your brand expression needs to establish trust. The surest way to do this is through consistency; that is, communicating the same core message, and offering the same promise through all of your brand, marketing, and content strategy efforts. It goes without saying that all of those smaller efforts—website, social media, podcasts, blog, ads—must reflect your authentic identity, not some brand that is not you.
As I’ve discussed before, one of the most potent ways to do this is by simply telling your brand’s story in a clear, killer, shareable video. Another, longer way to do this is by defining that core message by teaming up with your firm’s partners and writing a book. Even if it’s not a bestseller, a book demonstrates your thought leadership while carving out your place in the market.
Whatever your touchpoints look like, they should consistently show your brand’s authentic personality—an identity that’s best expressed in the framework of a story and on the unique solutions your firm has to offer a particular hero.
Once you’ve built great relationships, they can break in new ones over the digital space.
Of course, while positive customer reviews and great online feedback are good indicators of trustworthiness, word of mouth remains king.
When there’s no person at the front of the experience you’re starting to build with a potential client before they become a client, other people willing to vouch for you (online but especially in person) makes a splendid first impression.
But as golden as that is, someone’s word of mouth won’t do you any favors if your firm’s identity, brand expression, and personality are confusing, misleading, or even inconsistent. For example, having a bunch of five-star reviews and glowing client testimonials won’t look so good with a shoddy website. In fact… it will look a bit shady.
Trust is built on consistency, and that extends to the first digital impression.
Furthermore, trust and relationships are built on unique, truthful brand expressions. This is where simply telling the truth (going back to my example of having a shoddy website) isn’t exactly enough. Rather, the formula for the kind of authenticity that makes great impressions and leads to strong client relationships goes something like—truth, expressed consistently, with top-notch, creative skill that fleshes out a personality.
Or consistency and personality for short.
When a firm really understands who they are, what they offer, and what they’re best suited to do in the world, and then finds every tangible, skillful way to express that, they’re tapping into the kind of consistency that engages potential clients in an authentic, truthful, and even interesting way.
It’s not easy to do, but the great news is that initiating, and building great relationships in an ever-digital world is not impossible.
Ultimately, digital walls or not, you do business with people.
Want Great Client Relationships?
If you’ve read this far, then you certainly should. There’s another, more precarious side to the relationship building coin.
For all your sales, digital touchpoint, or marketing goals, you don’t want to signal that you’re not a good firm to be in a relationship with. When nothing could be further than the truth, the last thing you want is self-sabotage. Not when potential client-relationships that can communicate your reputation while having the potential to build your business are at stake.
Also, you don’t want to build relationships with clients who don’t fit, or who don’t need what you offer and won’t appreciate it.
With that in mind, here’s some obvious ditches to avoid:
Overselling or misrepresenting yourself.
This opens a disconnect, causing someone to be disconnected or confused when the digital perception turns into a real-person one.
Don’t tell some kind of tall tale you can’t live up to. That’s a great way to lose deals and end up with dissatisfied clients.
Lacking specificity and clarity about what you offer
Not a great way to convince someone that they’re meeting or interacting with the authentic you. Great way to cause clients to leave or disincline them to a long-term relationship.
Trying to be the ‘low cost provider’
At least in professional services, where teams of talented, experienced people perform sophisticated tasks under the same banner, this might suggest that you don’t care about how people perceive you. Or, that you’re not interested in building good relationships.
Attracting the wrong type of clients
This often comes with not generating enough leads.
But if that’s not the case, and if you’re continually attracting clients who aren’t a good fit for what you offer, it’s time to go back and refine your message. Your authentic, consistent brand should align with the kind of client you’re best suited to serve… that’s branding 101 as far as I’m concerned.
Fabricating a brand personality or copying someone else’s… just to get clients
Big fan of cheap, knock-off products?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Brand, communicate, and get your name out there truthfully. If you’re not truthful, why would anyone want to invest in a relationship with you or your brand?
Produce Trust. Brand Authentically.
Consistency and trust fuel good relationships.
Never forget building one means bringing your authentic, remarkable self to the table. Again and again—because that’s what people respond to. It’s also what other people, the ones who make your organization, your business, and even your success possible with their own free choices, expect and deserve.
When a business and its clients forge a relationship that comes through again and again, and even lasts through decades, they sharpen each other. The benefits multiply, both parties become better versions of themselves, and it’s evident to everyone… and attractive as well.
If You Find This Helpful…
Then there’s more food for thought (a lot more of it), in my book on brands, branding strategy, and authentic brand-building. It’s called ‘You Are Remarkable’ and you can find it on Amazon.
With that and having seen Resound build a number of solid relationships with remarkable clients, I’d love to chat with you on this topic even more.
Check out my resources or give the Resound team a shout.
And don’t forget that you are remarkable.