Heather Whaling 2014

5 Tips to Build Client Partnerships

Heather Whaling 2014This is a guest post by Heather Whaling, president of Geben Communication.

The people who hire you – are they clients or customers? Do they see you as a partner or a vendor? A consultant or a freelancer? Just semantics or is there an actual difference?

I see the new business process as an opportunity for me to interview a prospect, just as much as it’s an opportunity for them to get to know Geben. During this phase, I want to determine if they’re looking to partner with a consultant … or if they just need a freelancer to draft some press releases.

If we decide we’re a good fit for each other, that’s when the relationship building begins. How do we go about establishing and nurturing strong partnerships with clients? Here are a few things that we’ve implemented at Geben. Feel free to borrow any of our ideas!

  1. Accessibility. We adopt our clients’ preferred communication channels. That means we’ve hashed out client projects on Hipchat and What’sApp, Basecamp and Podio, Skype and GChat, texting and Facetime. Embracing their preferred communication channel – instead of forcing them onto ours – helps build rapport and reinforce that we really are just an extension of their team.
  2. Client/partner Twitter lists. We don’t use the Geben Twitter handle to tweet, but we do use that account to create and share Twitter lists amongst our team. For example, we created a private client/partner Twitter list. That way, if someone only has a couple minutes to hop on Twitter, it’s incredibly easy to see what our clients are sharing, talking about, asking and doing.If your clients are active on Twitter, this is a helpful way to strengthen your relationship. Interested in something they tweeted? Reference it in an email or bring it on up your next call. Whether it’s work-related or not, these little gestures go a long way in solidifying a relationship.
  3. Flexible retainers. As I’ve mentioned, we take the partnership piece of our role seriously. That’s why we don’t bill clients by the quarter-hour. Instead, our retainers are built on a range of hours. The scopes of work are purposefully general, giving us the flexibility to serve our client without worrying about whether something is out of scope. For example, one month we may be very focused on media relations, the next month we’re providing support for an event and the following month we might be working on a content marketing campaign.As long as we stay within the range of hours, we don’t get hung up on whether the specific tactics are in or out of scope. In theory, we could probably make a little more money if we had a strict scope of work or billed to the quarter-hour; however, the relatively small amount that we lose in billings we more than make up for in client longevity and intangibles (such as referrals to other clients).
  4. Responsiveness. While none of us want to be on the clock 24/7, there’s something to be said about being available when the client needs you. One evening, I’d gone for a bike ride. When I got home, I had two missed calls from a client. Turns out, a crisis situation had unfolded and they wanted to talk about how to respond to the media inquiry. It was 9:30pm, but I hopped on the phone, got the details and quickly hammered out a statement. Together, we diffused the situation – and in the process, built a long-term partnership.
  5. Connecting. Do you consider yourself a connector? How about applying those skills to clients? I’ve found that clients truly appreciate when you give them access to your network.For example, our city’s public transportation organization is one of our social media clients. When they were preparing to launch a new downtown circulator, we suggested an event with the local Yelp community as part of the initial promotion. We have a very strong relationship with the local Yelp community manager, so we facilitated an introduction and set up a lunch meeting. As a result, our client and Yelp teamed up for an incredibly successful event that helped spur early interest and ridership of the circulator. Our client was thrilled. Was this outside the scope of our contract? Yes. But, our willingness to make a mutually beneficial introduction underscores our commitment to the relationship while reinforcing the additional value we bring to it.

What other ideas have you discovered to help you develop and nurture long-term partnerships?

About Heather Whaling

Heather Whaling (@prTini) is president of Geben Communication, a PR firm that helps emerging brands and forward-thinking, established companies to implement the right mix of public relations, media outreach and social media, while maintaining a laser-like focus on achieving goals. Heather blogs at prTini. com and distributes two weekly e-newsletters: A fresh AP[PR]OACH (for PR pros) and theEm.co (for women in business).

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  • Thanks for the tips, Heather! Positioning ourselves as a trusted partner and colleague (rather than just the hired help) actually elevates the client’s perception of our value.

    Regarding the flexible retainers, I agree it’s important not to be seen as nickle-and-diming the client, but I’m sure there are occasions when you have to finesse the new request. For example, “OK, we can do new project X this month, but we’ll have to wait until next month to do Y.” The fact that it’s an either-or proposition takes some education sometimes, but it’s yet another opportunity for us to provide valuable counsel as to what’s important.