How solid is your relationship with your client base? Do you feel secure that you know all the players in the management team of some of your largest and most profitable clients? Can you successfully reach the CFO or CEO or anyone at the C level within the organization? If the answer is “no” then you have a lot of strategic work to do!
Over the years, I have heard many laments by agency owners relative to the unexpected loss of significant clients through the decision of someone they didn’t even know in the organization. The fact that you have great liquidations and an 18-year relationship doesn’t really seal the deal in today’s market. The best way to guarantee the continuation of important business relationships is to know all the players, which dictates that your entire office team must have a critical role. Without this relationship strategizing you run the risk of “here today and gone tomorrow.” This takes precious time we often don’t have. But as expressed in an African proverb, “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”
One way to start this process is to assess your contacts within every significant client’s operation. With whom does your staff communicate? How often? Have positions changed? To whom do the people you know report? Are positions solid or are interim consultants running part of the organization? But how do we, from a practical perspective, reach out and penetrate the creditor work force?
Typically, we mirror contacts and relationships between our office and a client’s team. Our front-line staff engages with front liners. Our supervisors deal with supervisory staff. C-level management in your firm is responsible for developing that level of relationship. The challenge is to be sure each level gets adequate attention and a true, deep relationship is developed.
The front line staff often communicates daily. There are exchanges of reports, discussions relative to specific account dynamics and open dialogue. As regular as these communications may be, it is not uncommon for this level of staffing to never have personally met. The mid-level, supervisory staff may communicate less frequently but will sift through larger issues surrounding the overall relationship between the organizations.
Unfortunately, it is at the C-level of our organizations where the relationship development may be lacking. There is a reliance on the front line and mid-level development which often is very solid. We must develop plans and methods to spread our contact organization-wide. But what can we do?
The gift of pens, water bottles, sticky notes and utility bags with your logo are nice ways to keep clients happy. They use your tokens of appreciation regularly and continually see your name.
Newsletters, whether in a paper or electronic format, are a great way to inform clients about all levels of activity within your organization. Highlight staff member milestones, accomplishments, charity work and corporate achievements. Recently, some of my industry friends were awarded Inside ARM’s “Best Places to Work” designation. That is the type of thing you need to tell your clients about! And, be sure you send these publications to as many players in the client space as possible.
Industry Trade Association Meetings
An active presence at meetings sponsored by various industry trade groups is a good way to interact with the mid to upper-level client staff. It also exhibits your interest and knowledge in that industry. As an example, in the medical industry, you will find patient account managers and directors attending American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management meetings, but if you want to interact with the C-level staff you would want to attend Healthcare Financial Management Association meetings for the CFOs.
Support of Client Sponsored Charity Events
One successful method to engage with the upper echelon within the creditor setting is to corporately support charity events sponsored by your client. At this level, agency management should be at the forefront of the donations and event assistance. Sponsor a hole at a golf tournament and send a team to participate. Write a check for a capital campaign for a new wing at the hospital. Donate a truckload of gifts over the holidays to the credit union’s initiatives to help indigent local families. This kind of activity can go a long way and the C-level management will certainly take notice.
Showing interest in your client above and beyond the collection contract will do more for your retention of that client than most other dynamics.
Forge a pathway of unique communication and sincere interest in those firms that you represent. Engage in such a manner that all levels of staffing simply couldn’t forget about the depth and breadth of the relationship they have with your organization. As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
And with that, I leave you with best wishes for happy trails that lead to good client relationships, solid business retention and successful collection programs that will continue for years to come.
We encourage our readers to submit a “best practice” idea for inclusion in this column. Until next time, I’m in a collection office near you!