Here is an especially clever as well as valuable article that Andrew Sobel posted at his website. To read the complete article, check out other resources, and sign up for his free monthly newsletter, please click here.
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A client of mine, a Fortune-100 company, had a longstanding relationship with IBM for the provision of a variety of technology services. They told me that IBM’s then-CEO Sam Palmisano decided to visit my client’s CEO.
A week ahead of the visit, my client’s relationship manager for IBM called his counterpart to discuss the upcoming CEO summit between their companies. Apparently he did not get a return phone call during that week! The story goes that when Palmisano met with their CEO, he opened by saying “My people tell me we have an ‘A’ relationship with your organization.” My client’s CEO responded, “Well, my team tells me your relationship with us is a ‘C.’”
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for the ensuing conversation!
The story ends well—they don’t always—and apparently this was a wakeup call for the IBM team to dramatically improve the relationship. Within a year, my client tells me, the relationship was indeed an “A,” and today they view IBM as a key trusted partner in operating their business.
IBM is a great company that has been quite innovative in the way it builds long-term client relationships. But as this story illustrates, even well-managed firms can dramatically misread the health of a key client relationship!
In the medical profession, there is continual debate about the value of the annual health “checkup.” Most doctors, however, firmly believe that certain types of regular screening tests are essential and help save lives. As the IBM anecdote illustrates, similar “screenings” are necessary when managing client relationships.
In fact, you should absolutely review the “health” of your cient relationships on a regular basis. Here’s why. Most clients simply vote with their feet. They don’t tell you they are unhappy—they simply start to give their business to your competitors. The successful firms I work with all have some type of process in place to determine the health and strength of their most important client relationships. Often, they have multiple layers of feedback that they seek. These sometimes include periodic but structured conversations held by the relationship manager, senior executive visits, independent surveys, and client forums (virtual and in-person).
Here [is the first of] ten questions the Relationship Doctor would ask about each of your clients:
1. Do you have access?
If there were such a figure as a “client relationship doctor,” Lloyds Banking Group Chairman Sir Winfried Bischoff would be the archetype. The former Schroder’s CEO and Citigroup Chairman is a renowned trusted advisor who has calmly and wisely guided hundreds of CEOs through bet-the-company transactions and deals. Last year I asked Sir Win, “How do you know when a relationship is not going well?” His first response was, “If it’s taking a very long time to set up a meeting, that’s usually a bad sign!”
Can you actually get in to see important executives in your client’s organization? Some leaders are notoriously busy, and it does take time to get on their schedule. But if you don’t have access, you may not be considered relevant! PS: If you think you have a good relationship, but the client says “There’s nothing going on, it doesn’t make sense to meet,” that’s still a bad sign. It means they don’t really value your ongoing insight and perspective.
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Andrew Sobel (www.andrewsobel.com) helps companies and individuals build clients for life. He is the most widely published author in the world on the topic of business relationships, and his bestselling books include Power Questions, All for One, Making Rain, and Clients for Life. All for One was recently voted one of the top 10 sales and marketing books of the decade by a major marketing publication. His clients include many of the world’s leading companies such as Citigroup, Hess, Cognizant, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, Experian, Lloyds Banking Group, and many others. Andrew’s articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, strategy+business, and the Harvard Business Review. He spent 15 years at Gemini Consulting where he was a Senior Vice President and country Chief Executive Officer, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors. Andrew has been married for 30 years and has three children. He can be reached at www.andrewsobel.com.
To read my reviews of two of Andrew’s books, All for One and Power Questions, please click here.