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client management

Small business basics

A comprehensive guide to client management in 2021

Learn how to implement client management best practices for your small business and improve your working relationships for business success.

April 27 · 7 min read

It’s a simple formula. Happy clients = successful business. But as with anything worth doing, keeping your existing clients happy is always easier said than done. Gaining new ones is not a walk in the park either. That’s why client management exists today.

Being able to manage client relationships gives any small business a massive advantage in the market. If you have a lineup of satisfied customers who keep coming back for more business, you don’t have to spend so many resources hunting for new clients. Simply focus on improving your client management and build mutually beneficial, long-term relationships.

At the end of this guide, you’ll know how to implement client management best practices for your small business and improve your working relationships for business success.

First things first, what is client management?

Client management is simply managing client relationships throughout their lifecycle. The primary goal here is to score high on client satisfaction, which leads to improved retention rates.

Existing clients are more likely to spend more and are generally easier to work with compared to new clients. Plus, attracting new customers can cost up to five times more than the cost of maintaining an existing client relationship. And did you know that increasing your client retention rates by just 5% can improve your profitability by over 25%?

With these numbers, you can immediately see how constantly improving your client management process is a no-brainer. Every successful client relationship begins with a stellar onboarding process, giving the new client a solid first impression and setting the foundation for a successful long-term relationship.

Related: A step-by-step guide to the client onboarding process

In a service industry, client management is an extension of project management where clients are being managed instead of projects. There would be no project without the client, after all. Therefore, it’s all about providing a one-of-a-kind client service, so they trust you and are more willing to continue doing business with you.

Client management skills are something any successful business manager must possess. Without client satisfaction, the project is not finished.

Breaking down client management

There are four main components of effective client management:

  • Understanding the client’s needs and knowing how your business solves them
  • Delivering on those needs, receiving feedback, and responding to queries
  • Being proactive and trying to determine the client’s needs before they even know it exists
  • Having well-structured and personalized communications at all times

All these components rely on access to qualified customer information. This data is gathered and analyzed in real-time by web analytics tools, which the client manager and department heads use to deliver a personalized client service. These tools can also help uncover new ways to improve business relationships for improved client satisfaction and retention.

As you can see, client management is broad and often requires collaboration with other departments in the company. Therefore, the success of a client relationship management process is essentially a team effort and not the sole responsibility of the client manager.

Examples of client management

You might already have a client management system in your company and not even know it! Let’s walk you through some examples of what client management looks like in day-to-day operations.

  • Using CRM software to improve customer loyalty — customer relationship management (CRM) software brings a level of automation to your client management process. It can help you align real-life customer behavior with real-time data for better decision-making. With this data, you can directly address your client’s needs and improve their chances of remaining loyal customers.
  • Increasing word of mouth referrals — with customer loyalty comes the opportunity to increase word of mouth referrals and drive more potential clients to your business. These are essentially effective marketing campaigns done on your behalf by your happy, satisfied customers at no cost to you.
  • Serving as a liaison — The client manager is the main point of contact for your clients. They proactively check on specific client’s needs, perform any necessary follow-ups, conduct satisfaction surveys, and constantly work to improve the overall customer experience.

How client management benefits your small business

If you’re still on the fence as to whether your small business needs an effective client management system, here are a few benefits to consider:

1. New clients can become lifelong clients

Happy clients are more willing to continue doing business with you over the long term. Repeat clients are crucial to your business’s success and can help improve its bottom line, especially in a highly competitive market.

There isn’t much sense in putting in all the work to onboard a new client only to lose them a few months later over something that could have been easily avoided if you’d had a client management system in place.

2. Long-term clients are likely to buy more

It’s much easier to sell to a client you already have. It makes sense. They know you and probably trust you so the next time they come across that particular problem, they turn to you. This provides you with a prime opportunity to introduce premium products and upsells to drive more revenue for your small business.

Just remember to offer services or products that provide actual value. Client relationships can be fickle at times. Try to upsell them something irrelevant, and you may end up pushing them away instead.

3. They’ll bring in new potential clients for your business

This just ties into the increased likelihood of gaining new clients through word-of-mouth referrals. But it goes beyond that. Satisfied customers are not just likely to refer your business to their network, they can also leave glowing reviews and testimonials about your brand as well as share your content across social media.

With good customer management, you can nurture the relationship until you get to the stage where you can simply ask them to help you bring in new clients for your business.

4. It helps you identify your ideal customer

Client management can help inform the direction of your marketing campaigns. The more you know about your existing clients’ needs and preferences, the better you can map out a viable target audience for your marketing.

Remember that client needs are constantly evolving, and so will the market. Client relationship management can help create a roadmap for how your business can target new customers.

5. You don’t have to do it manually

There are tons of client management software available today that can automate your client relationship efforts. They can also optimize workflows among team members. Your CRM tool can be a standalone system or part of a much more robust project management software. In any case, you can easily automate your processes and create templates to save you even more time.

Effective client management principles and best practices

Client management has evolved over the years, especially as companies transitioned from pre-computer CRM systems to today’s virtually paperless approach. And yet, its founding principles remain as relevant as ever to this day. Abide by these principles and best practices if you want to succeed at client management in 2021:

Promote honesty and transparency

These are the pillars on which customer trust and loyalty are built. Honesty is non-negotiable in business, especially in today’s digital age where potential clients are choosy about what brands they want to do business with. Any reports of dishonesty or fraudulent practices about your brand can seriously tank its image and can even lead to client loss.

In terms of transparency, be upfront about timelines and deliverables. If there are any issues with the client’s project, say so. Don’t try to sugarcoat the reality. Clients often prefer straight talk followed by practical recommendations on the next steps.

Maintain open and regular communication

Communicate regularly with your clients. However, remember to keep in mind their preferences on how often they want to be contacted and the mode of communication. The key is to be accessible without overbearing.

When they reach out to you, respond quickly to their inquiries. Take the time to actually understand their concern. Sure your company may have its guidelines for dealing with certain issues, but today’s clients hate nothing more than having to deal with bureaucratic nonsense and unnecessary back and forths. They want someone who listens to them and proffers tailored solutions.

Build and maintain trust

You cannot have any relationship without trust. Even less so when the relationship involves the exchange of money. Trust is at the epicenter of any successful client management system. Start by focusing on authenticity and credibility. For instance, you could post informative blogs on a particular topic or break down some industry jargon into easy-to-understand content pieces so people can see that you know what you’re talking about.

When people see you as a credible figure, they tend to trust you and are more likely to buy whatever solutions you’re recommending or selling.

Set clear expectations

Don’t try to make your clients happy by making promises you’re unable to fulfill. Doing so just leads to bigger problems down the line. In fact, setting expectations should begin with your sales team. The client onboarding process is also a great time to let the client know what to expect in terms of deliverables, timelines, and results.

Learn your client’s industry

Building solid client relationships means taking the time to understand your client’s background. When your client correspondences mainly center around monthly reports and figures, it can get boring after the first few months. However, when you understand their industry and background, you can hold meaningful conversations centered around how your company can provide more value to them.

Additionally, they’ll be impressed that you took the time to research their business challenges, which in turn can result in a more productive working relationship.

Measure success

Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) for your client management processes. The data can show you areas that may require improvements or even a complete overhaul. Some examples of KPIs that you should be tracking include customer satisfaction, client retention, churn rates, time to resolution, number of support requests, and so on.

Stay aligned

If you don’t stay aligned to your established scope of work, you’ll find yourself taking on much more than you can handle. Not every client relationship will go smoothly. That’s why it’s important to know when to be firm when your client asks you to do work that’s outside the scope of the original agreement. Be sure to communicate with them directly and explain why these additional tasks aren’t your responsibility.

Practical tips for succeeding at client relationship management

Let’s look at some simple yet effective tips for effective client management in 2021:

On attracting new clients

Yes, you want to keep your existing clients, but it’s also important to never stagnate in the market. New clients mean more money, and you can never have too much of that in business. To attract new clients:

  • Identify your ideal client and target them directly
  • Be where they are so it’s easier for them to spot your brand
  • Be social and maintain an active presence across multiple, relevant platforms
  • Seek referrals

On retaining clients

This is the whole point of client management. The best way to increase client retention is to focus on making them happy and fulfilling their expectations. Here’s how:

  • Create a roadmap so they know what to expect at every stage of the consumer lifecycle.
  • Share progress reports regularly, even if it’s a simple notification about milestones achieved.
  • Keep a paper trail of transactions and correspondences so there is always something to refer to should conflicts arise down the line.
  • Get feedback from your client and be sure to implement helpful changes based on what they’ve told you.
  • Be responsive always; don’t wait until the client sends a follow-up message before taking action on their request.

On establishing trust with clients

The chances of people trusting your brand based on your advertisements and marketing campaigns alone are slim to none. Here’s what you can do to establish trust quickly:

  • Share your previous work with the client and be sure to own your previous successes.
  • Show them testimonials and case studies from existing clients.
  • Maintain professional communication at all times.
  • Be honest about any challenges that you’re facing that can impact the client’s project
  • Grow a sizable online following.

On dealing with difficult clients

Tensions can often run high when certain expectations aren’t met. Sometimes, the fault is not even from your end, but client management best practices dictate that you get ahead of the situation and bring it to a peaceful resolution. Here’s how:

  • Remember to keep your cool always. You won’t make any progress when you allow your personal feelings to spiral out of control.
  • Acknowledge the client’s feelings, even if they seem unfounded or unreasonable.
  • Find common ground with the client and let them understand that you are acting in their interests too, not just your company’s.
  • Use facts to establish control of the situation. Those can’t be disputed regardless of sentiment.
  • End with a concrete plan of how you would proceed after the meeting. Outline action plans and walk the client through the steps you intend to take to achieve them.

On giving clients bad news

Some things are simply beyond your control — sick employee, delay with suppliers, IT issues, even poor traffic conditions. But then again, no one likes excuses, so you’ll need to be delicate with how you deliver bad or unexpected news to clients.

  • Start by restating the desired result and the progress made so far, so they are assured you’re on top of the situation.
  • Take full responsibility. There’s nothing more pathetic than venting or assigning blames to your team members. You’re the boss — own your mistakes and make amends.
  • Be clear about the solution(s) that you’ll be implementing.
  • Offer a form of compensation where appropriate.
  • End the meeting with a new timeframe and stick to it.

Done properly, delivering bad news to clients can improve their trust and lead to a stronger long-term relationship. Consumers generally appreciate it when you’re direct about an issue and are committed to finding a solution. It reassures them that you’re on their side.

Conclusion

In brief, this guide will help you improve your client management and boost customer satisfaction. Keeping your clients happy is not always easy, but remember that the effort always pays off. Give them reasons to trust and respect your company, and you’ll have a much stronger and more mutually beneficial client relationship on your hands.

Want to learn more about small business basics? Visit our Resource Center today! At B12, we are constantly innovating to deliver quality web solutions for your small business. We offer everything from stunning website designs and comprehensive SEO to online payment tools and even scheduling software. Sign up with us today to get started or learn more about how B12’s suite of powerful web presence solutions can transform your business and boost its success.

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