Client Management Lesson #2: Partners, Not Customers

This is the second post in a seven part series on Key Client Management Lessons. Lesson #2: Partners, Not Customers

It may seem like semantics, but I’ve learned not to think of my clients as “customers”.  It has a connotation that implies that you’re inferior to the client.  You’re not.  A buyer/seller relationship is a perfectly mutually beneficial partnership.  You want something, they want something.

Your role in the partnership is to maximize the benefit to your organization and your partner’s role in the partnership is to maximize the benefit to their organization.  If you don’t approach it this way, you’re not playing the game -- the “self-interest game” -- and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

It is this joint self-interest that creates the magical “win/win” -- where you both get more from the relationship than the sum of your combined assets.

Positioning your relationship as a partnership can be difficult.  Clients are paying you a lot of money, they think of themselves as customers, they expect you to jump when they say jump.

To be sure that the relationship is positioned as a partnership, as soon as you take over the account, setup a call with the client and do two things:

  1. Define the objectives of the relationship (be sure the objectives are aligned with your business goals and theirs)
  2. Define the key metrics that will determine success or failure in reaching the objectives

This is a critical step; it forces you to view the success of the partnership through the lens of business success and "win-win", rather than the lens of client satisfaction or happiness.  Happy clients are important, but they should be happy because you’re helping them reach their business goals, not because you’re treating them like a king that you’re in business to serve.

When a “partnership” is in place, as you move through the relationship and opportunities, challenges and conflicts come up, you can always refer back to the objectives and metrics you’re using to determine success.  This will keep you both focused on actions that drive business results rather than non-essential activities that take you off course.