In a professional services environment, relationships matter. Firms that are known and trusted by clients are often the firms that get the work. Firms are typically in it for the long haul – they don’t want to do only one project with a client, they want to do many projects over time. When you build a relationship with a client, you develop a level of trust. You create value for your organization that your client wants and needs. You want to become a trusted resource for your client. You want to be the one your client turns to in a crisis or emergency and relationships are at the heart of that trust.
The seller/doer model works very effectively in many professional services markets. Clients often want to talk to technical experts when discussing a potential project to understand all the aspects of the work. They also want to talk to people who have done this work before and learn best practices without having to reinvent the wheel. Therefore it is vitally important that staff build relationships through methods such as their project work, involvement in professional associations, and conference speaking engagements. Many technical staff are uncomfortable or reluctant to “sell” while doing their project work. If you are able to reposition the thinking around relationship building and help your staff understand that your client needs you as much as you need your client! You’re not selling a vacuum to someone who already has a beloved vacuum. Your client has a problem to solve and you have the expertise to solve it. If you prove your worth by doing high quality, high value work, clients gain just as much as you do.
So back to the relationship. A mentor of mine once described his view of relationship building to me. As he started out in consulting, he had colleagues, former classmates, and clients who were also just starting out in their careers. As he advanced in his career, so did his colleagues, classmates, and clients. He became the president of a company and noticed that his relationships were strong, deep, and very receptive to his calls. The colleagues, classmates, and clients were now presidents of companies, heads of client agencies, and technical experts. My mentor could generate work with a phone call, and help his clients (and friends) solve their problems. To me, this is an example of highly successful relationship building.