This past week we were very happy to bring three new clients onboard. It isalways great when you bring in new business but it is also time consuming to get to know each other. When you work with an existing client it is just a fact of life that you get into a pattern of working and things flow smoothly. If you want to ensure that same great working relationship with new customers there are a few things I can suggest.
Do Your Homework
The obvious place to start is with the new customer’s website, but you need to dig further. Do an extensive web search to see if there are news articles about the company. Have the executives been quoted in regional or national publications? Are they a part of a trade group? There are lots of ways to find information but it does take time. Do you know anyone that currently works at the company that might provide some insight? Do you know, or can you find, others who have supplied the company? Each contact you make will give you information so you can get a clear and complete picture.
Meet and Greet
There is nothing like visiting a new customer in their facility to give you a sense of the company culture and style. Take the time to tour their facility and ask lots of questions. Ask them for any additional print or other material that might be useful. Don’t stop there. Try to get the new customer to visit you and meet your team. You will want to be sure that your facility is in great shape and that your team is prepared to answer any questions the customer might ask.
Define a Communication Process
There is a famous quote by George Bernard Shaw that’s says “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” One of the things that can derail a business relationship quickly is poor communication. Sometimes customers have a language or terms that are very specific to their industry or their company. You need to be sure that you understand what they are saying. You also need to find out how they like to communicate. Some people prefer e-mail, others want a voice call. What is their preferred method and how often do they want to touch base. Also find out if there are any rules or regulations about privacy that might affect the communication.
Understand Your Customer’s Practices and Procedures
This one is tricky because it is such a broad area. Ask about things like how you will work with them on a project. Do you need to submit a formal quote for each deliverable and is there a format they refer? Are there quality and delivery standards that you must meet? Will you need to gear up for electronic invoicing and payment? This is an area where many small businesses get left behind. Every customer will have different requirements so it’s a good idea to develop a profile for each customer. You need a roadmap for working with your new customer.
Taking the Lead
Finally, figure out who on your team will take the lead with the new customer. Some customers like to have a single point of contact, someone that they can turn to when they need help or information. Relationships are built by consistent interaction. So think carefully about how you can nurture a new customer relationship by putting the right people out front.
I love bringing new customers onboard, but it is what you do in the early days o