Friday, June 22, 2007

Selecting a Client and Dating are Pretty Close Cousins

I have always believed that the relationship between an attorney, accountant, or any service provider and their client is more personal than business. From the service provider side; the service we offer is an absolute commodity and our clients can get it anywhere. The choices our clients make about where they get their services from are based almost entirely on personal chemistry and trust for us as individuals. Sounds like dating, doesn't it? Here are a few tips for creating successful, happy client relationships.

Choose a client wisely and well. We are attracted to potential clients for all kinds of reasons. They represent income, shower us with praise, look good in our portfolio, spell defeat for a competitor, or we feel good about working with them. Evaluate a potential client as you would a mate; look at their character, personality, values, generosity of spirit, the relationship between their words and actions, and their relationships with others. Not every potential client is a match nor will you be happy to serve them over the long-term.

Know their beliefs about business relationships. Different people have different and often conflicting beliefs about what are correct expectations in a services relationship. You don't want to commit to a client relationship with someone who expects your loyalty even in dishonesty; or to someone that believes they are now due special favors for being a client. Only work with people that will respect you.

Don't confuse the allure of potential with reality. Especially in the beginning of a client relationship, attraction and pleasure in the potential business often override common sense.

Know your needs and speak up for them clearly. A good business relationship is not a guessing game. Many people (your clients and you) fear stating their needs and as a result, camouflage them. The result is disappointment at not getting what they (you) want and resentment for not having met mutual (unstated) needs. Closeness cannot occur without honesty. Your client is not a mind reader.

View yourselves as a team, which means you are two unique individuals bringing different perspectives and strengths to accomplish one goal.

Know how to respect and manage differences. It is the key to success in a relationship. Disagreements don't sink relationships. A lack of respect does. Learn how to handle the negative feelings that are the unavoidable byproduct of differences between people. Stonewalling or avoiding conflicts is NOT managing them.

If you don't understand or like something your client is doing, ask about it and why he or she is doing it. Talk and explore, don't assume.

Solve problems as they arise. Don't let resentments simmer. Most of what goes wrong in relationships can be traced to hurt feelings which leads people to erect defenses against one another and to become strangers -- or enemies.