Over the years, I have had the good fortune of befriending some of my clients (and prospective clients) to the point where we have developed a genuine affection for one another. So much so that if one of us were to dramatically change career paths, I believe we would continue to look out for one another and share the occasional drink to nurture the friendship.
Of course, this kind of evolution is not possible with all clients. (Sometimes the chemistry simply isn't there.) But consider that many of your clients like you enough to continue working with you year after year and would be open to developing the kind of loyal camaraderie that more seamlessly mixes business with pleasure.
Follow these steps to turn more of your clients into friends:
- Build Rapport: In our effort to be professional and efficient, we often truncate the small talk that initiates a client interaction. A quick word about the weather or an exasperated comment about how busy we are and we abruptly transition into the matter at hand. Surely you would show more personal interest if you were having the same conversation with an old friend. So give the social component of your conversations a little more breathing room. Over time, you may find that they are willing to open up about themselves and also show a sincere interest in you.
- Be Generous: If every client interaction results in an invoice, we send the message that the relationship is strictly transactional. You wouldn't send an invoice to a friend if a spontaneous call evolved into a discussion where your advice solved their problem. Make a similar investment in your client relationships from time to time, even if it means sacrificing a little revenue in the short term.
- Add Value: In the same vein as my last point, demonstrate that you care enough about your clients to send them the occasional value-added article, presentation, introduction, or social media shout-out. It shows them that you've "got their back" as it were, and it happens to be the kind of thing good friends do for one another.
- Transition into Social Time: After a while, the aforementioned three steps will position you to extend a social invitation to your client, but don't jump immediately to an intimate proposal of dinner-for-two. Start with activities that are more group-oriented such as a firm-sponsored client appreciation event or a wine tasting with other professionals in your network. If you have a standing group of poker players or golfers, you can certainly invite them to join for a game, but make sure the setting is appropriate given that you aren't exactly BFFs yet. Unless they are serial networkers or hopelessly friendly, your clients will be more responsive to invitations that allow them to ease into your inner circle.
Lastly, be patient. The process of converting a client into a friend takes time, but not as much as you may think when you take a methodical approach. The long-term client loyalty and the fact that you'll make a new friend is certainly worth the effort.
Next week I will share a few thoughts on a much more tricky endeavor: how to turn a friend into a client. Stay tuned...
Authored by David Ackert