At 2X, I manage delivery teams and the client success function. Since our inception, we haven’t lost a major account and our clients continue to invest more. Our average NPS score is 9.2/10, and our clients routinely recommend us to their networks. In this post, I will share some of the strategies that we believe contribute to happy clients.
Vendors should be doing all of the following throughout a client engagement:
1. Establish a regular governance cadence
A client should get face time with the top person from the vendor side. These meetings are important to secure alignment, and it is usually the perfect time to get a read-out on the status of the ongoing work so you have a better understanding of the impact the client feels you are bringing to the organization.
As a vendor and partner for growth, you should be able to share with clients any relevant new services that would allow you to solve certain problems that they have, demonstrating how well you understand their business and objectives.
At these governance meetings, vendors should also be able to provide an outsider’s perspective about clients’ organizations and how well they’ve aligned execution with their stated vision and goals. This outsider perspective is important, because a good vendor works for the client, and understands that sometimes telling the client what’s not quite right helps them avoid larger problems on the horizon.
In a nutshell, your client should come away from every top-to-top governance meeting feeling that engaging with you as a vendor is a real benefit.
2. Gain a deep understand of your client’s goals
The key differentiator between a good vendor and a great one is that a great vendor understands what the client’s goals are. Since there are many levels of stakeholders in a client organization, a great vendor would be able to meet the different short- and long- terms goals of various parties.
Take, for example, the CMO, whose KPI is to save costs without sacrificing the ability to serve the business. Delivering efficiency and quality would be something the CMO would want to see a vendor provide. However, a marketing manager may be focused on getting event materials finalized and printed. So as a vendor, it makes sense to try to improve on certain processes in order to achieve higher quality work with less iteration.
But to do that, you need the busy marketing manager to provide a detailed brief early in the process—which isn’t easy when she’s used to providing a vague, one-sentence description and believes cycles of iteration are part of the normal “creative process.”
Aligning different levels of stakeholders so your team doesn’t run at different directions requires a high level of communication and trust building with your stakeholders. So great vendors don’t just put in more brute force and try to work faster; they build trust by delivering work that makes the client happy first and foremost. At the same time, they focus on building rapport with individual stakeholders and always work to convince stakeholders of the benefits of a better way of working.
The driver for this behavior is delivering meaningful work at the best quality—in other words, working efficiently. The fundamental philosophy behind it is about cutting waste while delivering scale and value back to the client.
Part of building rapport and trust with clients is sharing a love of great ideas that improve the work. Many agencies never use their senior resources for daily delivery, but we found sharing insights and providing guidance and recommendations for free are good ways to create winning relationships with your clients.
Firstly, overdelivering when it’s least expected is probably another philosophy all vendors should practice. This point ties in neatly with the one earlier about understanding your client’s goals.
Let me share another real-life example. At times, clients can be adamant about how they want a design to be laid out. In this case, the problem was that the brochure the client wanted broke several fundamental rules of good design. Instead of arguing, our designer delivered two designs: one exactly how the client wanted it, and another how it should be done. Upon seeing the two designs, the client understood and appreciated the extra effort in delivering two designs instead of just one.
By overdelivering and providing a better alternative, the client did not need to wait for another iteration of change and the project moved forward on time. It was a win-win for both sides—especially for the designer, who was able to deliver great work she was proud of.
4. Hire and invest in a good team
No client relationship would exist without good delivery.
So, vendors should place great emphasis on hiring good talent and training them consistently—not just the hard skills, but also soft skills such as empathy and communication. Being a marketing-as-a-service (MAAS) agency, our clients are also skilled marketers. So, it makes sense that we train our team to understand how the work they do is part of solving a business problem.
In other words, designers at 2X do more than beautify marketing material. They create designs that visually communicate the value prop of a client’s products. 2X writers aren’t typists who write content selfies for the client; they create pain-based messaging for a target audience they have researched and understood completely. Our business analysts don’t work on projects to analyze random data; they are looking for information that shows a trend or pattern that a marketing leader can use to make better budgeting decisions.
A good team works hard to deliver to a client’s expectations, and team members continuously seek to learn and improve themselves. In doing so, they can’t help but propose ideas for improvement. They find ways to do things faster and better, creating benchmarks and measuring improvements in quality or efficiency.
In the end, it takes two sides to build a successful B2B customer relationship. Appreciating the responsibilities each side has in creating a lasting partnership is the foundation of a lasting and fruitful endeavor.
This is the second half of a two-part blog series on this topic, which focuses more on what vendors can do to build and maintain a healthy relationship with their customers. Part 1 talks about strategies for clients to get more value from their vendors, and the important role clients play in building a better customer relationship. Both posts can be read independently from each other but reading both posts would provide a holistic perspective. Like they say, it takes two to tango!