Written by: Hillary Feder
Client engagement is all about nurturing relationships—making people who matter feel like they matter. Clients are people first, so touch points need a personal aspect to demonstrate an authentic interest in their life outside of work as much as inside work. A nurturing initiative can take you from helter-skelter to laser focus – turning customers into long-term clients who know you care about them year-round.
So how complicated is this effort—a call here, a personal visit there, an email, a handwritten note, an occasional meal? While it seems straightforward, without a well-planned, documented strategically planned touch points, it’s a haphazard effort lacking in effectiveness and efficiency. What’s more, a plan will help you use a steady drip method instead of drowning clients with too many touch points too frequently.
Starting with onboarding
Having closed a new deal after a lengthy and costly process of negotiating with a prospect to convert them to a client, you certainly don’t want to waste any time nurturing the relationship. In fact, Freddy Burgess, associate partner at consultancy The Gap Partnership, says, “Once you get to the point where you have agreed and you’ve walked out of the room, that’s when the work really starts.”
Since onboarding creates a platform for relationship success, it should have its own documented process with sufficient communication that ensures a smooth transition and a client experience that breeds confidence in your company. Without one, you risk sabotaging the relationship and making new clients feel abandoned now that you’ve closed the sale.
It’s not unusual for this type of situation to occur since after making a purchase, executive buyers typically transfer responsibility for integrating the product or service to another team. The account/sales team transfers these same next steps as well. See the possibility for disconnects, information gaps, and frustration that undermine efforts to engage and retain clients and increase their lifetime value? A high-touch process will not only make new clients feel supported, but also foster greater adoption. Depending on the product/service’s complexity, the onboarding process will vary in the number of touch points and duration of the process, varying from a few weeks to a few months.
Here are some information transfer goals
From the sales team to client services Hard info—basic business information, contact information, and information about the sale Soft info—client expectations, feelings generated from the client, client’s objectives for the products/services, the client company’s goals, and how the client company’s needs are met in the short- and long-term.
From client services to other internal departments to identify potential compliance and regulatory issues and recommend preventive actions to client services.
Create a repeatable process for lasting client relationships
A well-documented process that’s tailored for your company and industry and offers some flexibility to meet different situational needs efficiently will create repeat success. New clients will get up and running faster through what could otherwise be an overwhelming process.
There are both technical and human pieces. A technology platform can guide a new client through some of the technical aspects and data collection processes. However, personal contact forges a more authentic connection and a better understanding of their business’s nuances. Download our complete onboarding checklist.
Create an official welcome kit delivered five days or so before an in-person meeting that includes:
Key contact information
Onboarding questionnaire (to be completed ahead of the in-person meeting)
Branded welcome token
First in-person meeting guidelines:
Key players from your new client’s team and yours should attend.
Explain roles and responsibilities for each party.
Review client objectives.
Review work/data the client should provide by a certain time.
Discuss roadblocks/barriers to success.
Present a timeline with milestones.
Bottom line: Your nurturing initiative will start out with your new client knowing you’re prepared and organized to handle their needs.
Once clients are settled in and established, it’s time to start keeping clients engaged through a multi-dimensional approach that includes scheduled face-to-face engagements, phone calls, personal emails, social media posts, gifts, short videos, hand written notes and possibly texts, depending on your relationship. This is beyond the purview of your marketing/communications departments that are tasked with pushing out information. Your goal in nurturing clients is to stay close to the client to receive new information about company objectives and situational changes to shape your relationship as a trusted advisor. People still do business with those they know and like.
Note that I refer to the above touch points as scheduled. Creating a calendar makes the plan visible to you and anyone who may be scheduling meetings with you. Integrating your nurturing plan with CRM software your company may have helps you and others who interact with the clients track information that has been revealed during each touch point. In addition, this documentation makes an easy reference to help guide future discussions.
Four-step nurturing system
Our four-step nurturing system won’t cover every situation, but should apply to about 90% of your needs in expressing authentic human interest in clients and monitoring how clients feel about your organization, including and beyond the business you do together.
Step 1: Focus on you want to accomplish
Identify three or four of the most important things related to nurturing your key relationships that you are trying to achieve/prevent/solve?
How will availability of internal resources impact objectives?
How should communication reflect your company’s brand, culture, and values?
What communication parameters should you consider to comply with industry regulations/standards?
Step 2: Data gathering
In learning how clients are actually recognized and thanked, you may find current recognition practices lack consistency, i.e., which personal and professional milestones are honored and how they are honored. If your client list contain multiple generations of families and/or clients connected to one another, extra care and thought needs to be top of mind as you take steps to develop your system.
Do you have a process or are client nurturing decisions made individually without guidelines?
Do you track your nurturing moments?
Who will be responsible for managing, monitoring and updating?
How will you measure success and make appropriate refinements as necessary?
Step 3: System development
Involve a small, diverse group to create a timeline that includes “marinating” time as well as active development.
Log key personal and professional milestones to be recognized and how they will be recognized.
Train the team in how to be good “curious question askers” to deliver consistency in personal nurturing practices.
Identify moments that would create nurturing/recognition touch points for broader client base
List communication channels (in-person, email, physical mail, phone, video, and gifts) to be incorporated into the nurturing plan. Design each channel to create a different emotional experience.
Schedule the system monthly check points and an annual review and refinement.
Step 4: Review and refine
Conduct monthly activity and annual review that will point to necessary refinements. Here’s a case study on how one of our clients evolved their plan. https://askhillarys.com/case-study/nurturing-client-relationships/
Is the “why” we decided to do this being addressed?
Are we being consistent?
Are we living our brand?
Is what we’re doing, down to the details, setting us apart from others in our industry?
The analysis will point to necessary refinements. Over time you might even add a referral nurturing system to gain new clients.
If you’re thinking about developing a nurturing plan and you don’t want to go it alone, let’s start a conversation. We create down-to-earth strategies and ideas aligned with your company objectives, brand, message, and voice. Email or give me a call 952-933-8365.
About the author:
Hillary Feder is an expert in creating people-centric practices to make the people that matter, feel like they matter. With deep expertise in employee engagement and the client experience and all of the details that come with leading people and nurturing relationships. Learn more about Hillary.