Persistence: In hiking; in relationship management

One of my rejuvenating activities is hiking (lots on gardening elsewhere in this blog). My favorite settings are a blustery, deep snowy trail or an exposed, rocky view-for-miles 12,000 foot trail. I am not one of those “To the summit!” hikers. For me, the joy is in the perseverance, the rugged weather, the alpine plants, the animals, my breathing and the view.

There are translateables to relationship management. As one who has worked for years in cultivating and growing client relationships, I so appreciate the perseverance of the hike and of cultivating and maintaining clients.

Not “sales”For my philosophy, relationship management better captures the purpose because it's not simply a goal to the summit (signing a new client), but it is the perseverance of the journey together. It is a more sustainable approach to client cultivation and retention.  Consider your language: a good litmus test is whether you speak with colleagues behind closed doors, as you would directly in front of your client.

Persistence: In my previous regional business development role, I regularly called on C-suite leaders, VPs, Regional Directors, Administrators and owners. It was common for me to make four unanswered outreach calls to cultivate a single connected conversation.

Perspective: In order to cultivate a client relationship, one must understand the worldview of the client: needs and goals; historic experience; and what causes the client to take action? Two favorite books are Influencer and Made to Stick, both about how we connect with others in a way that cultivates sustainable action.

Engage: Thusly, a relationship manager absolutely must customize the approach for each client in order to create true dialogue and commitment. It is not that zhe listens more than speaking, nor  actively listens. It is that zhe draws out meaningful dialogue, objections, hopes, experiences. Not simply finding the “pain point,” but seeking vision and hope. A relationship manager participates in the exchange patiently. From a retention perspective, a client relationship is more secure if the client has actively engaged and opted in, rather than quickly acquiesced from high-pressure tactics.

When it isn't pretty: How many clients come to us in a state of peace and pure professionalism? We all have baggage. Some potential clients are quick to anger, are scared, are demanding.

          Be kind, for everyone fights a hard battle. ~ Plato

Years ago, in a different industry, I met a business owner who would become one of my most loyal clients. Our first conversation started something like this: he said, “I used to work with your predecessor, but then she failed me. So I went to your competitor down the street and worked with him until he failed me. Then I worked with another of your competitors until she failed me.” Yowza. So it was clear this owner had a zero-failure expectation. My success with him:
  • Demonstrate commitment –  I always empathized with his situation, always understood his timelines, goals and needs.
  • Extra effort to make the process easier: I hand-delivered his products and provided regular updates on deliverables.
  • I treated him like he mattered, introducing him to my colleagues in a way that always showed their humanity and my assumption that he'd treat them with respect.  (Read: this was not his normal approach.)
  • I did fail him periodically, but always with humanity and humility. I owned up, apologized and took extra steps to rectify.
So it was this business owner who taught me to delight in the “difficult clients,” to step into the circle with them, meet them as humans, wow them, fail graciously, commit to them, expand their relationships with my colleagues.

I'd like to circle back to the hiking metaphor. The other part I appreciate about the the hiking journey is be-ing in it. Like Thich Nhat Hanh's Miracle of Mindfulness, it is breathing the thin mountain air, listening to the pikas, feeling the sting of the blustery snow on my face, feeling the pointy rocks under my soles. Thusly, a relationship manager takes equal joy in the journey together, as the summit.

[Edited June 10, removing too many "I" words.]


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