Communication is the most important component when managing clients and their projects. Hence, the key to building strong client relationships or successfully completing any project, whether handled by a dedicated project team or a cross-departmental team, depends on a set of crucial communication skills and techniques.
But just because you’ve spoken to a client doesn’t mean you’ve communicated.
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If you deal with clients in your business, then you know it’s not about controlling the discussion or simply managing expectations. Good communication is about putting yourself in the client’s shoes and continuing the much larger dialogue that has taken part over the previous days, weeks, months or even years.
On the other hand, poor communication is a surefire way to damage any client relationship or project.
How often have you taken communication lightly when managing a client? I know I’ve had my share of misunderstandings over the years, but through an ongoing effective communication workshop at IMPACT with Jack Carroll, I’ve come to rely on some tactics that help me align with clients and keep the lines of communication open.
Here are three techniques I’ve found valuable:
1. Determine the decision-makers
This one sounds simple, but as you may have experienced, knowing where the power lies can sometimes be very dicey.
It is important to know your point of contact because it enables you to understand how projects move through the department and sometimes, if you’re lucky, your point of contact will be the ultimate decision-maker.
In some cases, the decision-maker will be four or five people, who come in at various stages of the project with different goals. Unfortunately, you can’t change the decision-makers, but you can know what you’re getting into and then set expectations with your point of contact that all of those decision-makers must be involved in certain key stages of the project.
Be upfront about this. If your point of contact is a bit unclear about who will be actually editing your drafts or choosing between options, tell them politely that it’s important that you know because you want to get a good handle on everyone’s expectations. Chances are that the point of contact will realize that this is necessary and will check in with her/his team and come back to you.
2. Become a trusted advisor
Most of the advice you give to clients is based on being informed and for good reason.
All of us gravitate toward that one person who always seems to have the right answer. If you want to be that person to your clients (and believe me, you do), then be prepared to stay one step ahead of the game. For example, if industry news breaks or interesting developments arise, don’t wait for the client to tell you about it. Call or email them first and have an opinion, be bold, show that you are confident enough to have a point of view because you have an understanding of what’s going on.
When you pick up on a rumor or competitive intel, call them up with an idea for taking advantage of it right away. When you come across a new study on consumer behavior, share your thoughts and ask them for theirs.
In short, share valuable information before clients realize it themselves. Be the person who not only challenges your clients to think but to also explores new intellectual territory. Be proactive. Doing this puts you in the position of a trusted advisor — the perfect place from which to communicate.
This isn’t just a communication tactic. It’s how you build a reputation and ultimately become the go-to person for your client.
3. Push back (as long as you’re coming from the right place)
Pushing back can be very tricky when dealing with clients. Don’t get stuck in a tug-of-war just because you pulled the rope and your client jerked it back a little harder (and most clients will).
Ask yourself why you’re pushing back so hard. Are you really, really right on this one? Is the client blindly walking into a pitfall and not even realizing it? If that’s the case, then yes, it’s your duty to push back, bBut be explicit about why you’re disputing a client’s opinion. If necessary, go to great lengths to explain why I disagree with the client. Often, the explanation shows that you care enough to spend your time and resources to get to the root of an issue. It shows that you’re coming from a place of expertise and experience, not simply looking for control. You can pull relevant articles or case studies,
If necessary, go to great lengths to explain why you disagree with the client. Often, the explanation shows that you care enough to spend your time and resources to get to the root of an issue. It shows that you’re passionate and coming from a place of expertise and experience, not simply looking for control.
You can pull relevant articles or case studies, rope-in esteemed colleagues or member of your leadership team, all for the sake of building trust and clear lines of communication.
No matter what business you are in, healthy communication skills will help you do it better.
What can you do today to start refining the way that you communicate with clients? Are you using some tactics that are working extremely well for you? Feel free to share in the comment section below.