I’ve written a couple times before about how buyers should select and manage their vendors, consultants and agencies. But it goes the other way as well. Consultants, vendors and agencies who don’t set clear expectations and “train” their clients & customers up front are more liable to experience friction and frustration down the road.
Whether you’re selling professional services, software or anything in between, here are six steps I’ve found valuable in creating better, more successful relationships.
1. Ensure a clear understanding of expected outcomes up front
Literally define what success will look like. Most often it’s a number – but do you agree on what the number should be? Do you agree what you’re even measuring? This is a case where lots of people assume – they assume the other side expects the same thing, they assume the client will be reasonable even if results don’t come in as high as expected. Better to get those specifics on the table up front.
2. Ensure a clear understanding of the internal work required to achieve success
Too often customers buy something and expect results to magically happen without their input. They expect marketing automation to be….automatic. They expect agencies to deliver without requiring input, review, feedback. When these things happen, I blame the seller, not the buyer. It’s the seller’s responsibility to make clear up front what will be required to exceed objectives – including input, time and resources from the customer. Too often the seller is afraid of losing the deal by exposing how much work will be required internally. But if you win the deal only to ultimately lose an unhappy customer later, was it worth it?
3. Ensure a clear understanding of the expected & necessary timeline to achieve results
When you buy something, there’s often a level of urgency behind the results you need. Of course you want the results now. Sometimes that’s possible, sometimes not. Really important to make sure the customer knows how long it will take to do something successfully. If they’re looking for a different answer, it might not be because they have unrealistic expectations – it might simply be because they don’t have all the information they need to know what it will actually take. This is your opportunity as a seller to educate, which only serves to make you look smarter and more confident as the right decision for the buyer.
4. Escalate concerns, frustrations or questions immediately
I highly recommend that sellers bring this up and reinforce it often at the beginning of a relationship. You may have to force your buyer to voice a negative or constructive opinion early on, but make sure you accept that and make the necessary adjustments to get back on the right track. If frustrations fester, they can create long-term problems and perspections, sometimes without the ability to get back into a productive state.
5. Ensure a clear understanding of standard boundaries (with exceptions)
This goes especially for service organizations. You want to please the client, but that doesn’t mean five-minute response time for emails on a Saturday night. There will occasionally be emergencies and fire-drill situations, but those should be the exception to the rule. If you start responding over weekends, you’ll train your buyer to expect responses on weekends. If you want to preserve your personal time, respond Monday morning and train your buyer to either 1) ask the question on Friday, 2) escalate in the rare condition that it’s urgent, or 3) wait. Most things can wait.
6. Insist on a regular meeting and communication structure
The cadence and depth will depend on what you’re doing, but a regular rhythm of scheduled communication is important. Could include weekly status meetings, Friday afternoon written reports, Trello boards, whatever. Just decide that up front, be explicit about changes made during the engagement, and keep the lines of communication and updates going.