Deepening Client Connections: Relationship Management Mastery for Account Managers

Are you effectively managing your client relationships?

We tend to think that business relationships are all about us delivering outcomes for our clients with customers being the only ones on the receiving end. However, that isn’t necessarily true.

The optimum client relationship is a balanced, win-win exchange between your company and the client with both parties receiving their expected outcomes. As situations change, these relationships become lopsided. That’s when account managers need to rebalance the partnership by managing expectations through dialogue with customers.

Client relationship management is especially important during times of economic and market uncertainties where budgets are tight, staffing is reduced, and we and our clients are all trying to do more with less. We are all under pressure to meet the same or higher goals with fewer resources. This often means our outcomes are being scrutinized, potentially putting business partnerships at risk as companies seek ways to contain costs.

We recently had the pleasure of hosting a webinar called Deepening Client Connections: Relationship Management Mastery for KAMs, with the founder of Dialogue-7, JC Quintana. JC talked about deepening client partnerships through dialogue about seven key aspects of the relationship. JC refers to this discussion as “negotiating relationship equity” since it has the power to rebalance and deepen client connections.

Read on for the highlights of our discussion to learn how you can deepen your client connections to secure your relationships.

What is a Balanced Client Relationship?

Both you and your clients are on a journey. Customers come to you to fulfill a specific need. They are seeking a relationship with a company that provides the reward or outcome that they need.

You, the vendor company or account manager, are also on a journey. Perhaps you need acquisition, retention, cross-sells, upsells, or advocates. When both parties are receiving their desired outcomes, the result is a win-win scenario where the relationship is balanced.

How Partnerships Become Unbalanced

Outcomes consist of more than the ultimate goal or result that we want. Every aspect of the relationship between you and your client must be aligned to ensure the success and longevity of the partnership.

As JC reminded us, “Rewards minus cost equals outcome. And there’s a lot of different things that we define as costs. The costs that you put into the relationship could be things like money, time, effort, or engagement.”

Our ability and willingness to agree to the costs associated with a desired outcome or expectation depends on our circumstances, characteristics, and capacity. This causes expectations and our ability to meet their associated costs to evolve.

For example, the customer might want a high level of engagement that’s greater than you can give due to the expanded demands of your capacity and the fact that the customer is not your only customer.

You may find that your book of business has grown due to the current economic client, reducing your bandwidth. This could create the need to renegotiate this element of your relationships with your clients, so they adjust their expectations while still getting what they need.

Engagement expectations are only one of the aspects you must discuss to maintain successful long-term relationships with your clients. There are six other elements in the mix as well.

The 7 Key Relationship Elements

Negotiating relationship equity to deepen client relationships means discussing each party’s expectations about seven key aspects of the partnership. Mutual understanding and agreement on what these elements should look like creates a win-win scenario enabling both parties to get what they need from the relationship. Failure to do so can become a roadblock to progress, potentially putting the relationship at risk.

JC explained “We should be able to say, ‘What does it cost to be in this relationship? Let’s make it fair and equitable.’” Then you should discuss each of the following seven key relationship elements and each party’s ability to fulfill the involved costs. Negotiate each to agreed-upon a fair and equal investment in each aspect working through any disparity so it doesn’t become an obstacle to the continuation of your relationship.

Account managers need to discuss customer expectations relating to these seven aspects of client relationships to deepen client connections:

1) Value: The type of relationship expected and its outcomes. What does the customer expect to achieve with the use of your product or service? The account manager needs to consider if this goal is realistic and attainable.  

2) Centricity: The relevance of individuality and culture to the product or service and the relationship. JC gave the example of a software product a client subscribed to that is not designed specifically for the customer’s specific ethnic background or the language they speak.

It can also relate to corporate culture in terms of things like being environmentally friendly or sharing the same views on specific social issues.

3) The Experience: The look and feel of the experience including such things as the level of service the client expects, response times, types of support expected, and the look or feel of the product. Feedback concerning these and other experiential elements is important to discuss.

Address any issues or shortcomings and determine the best way to proceed.

4) Transparency: Degree of accessibility, openness, and candor. This relates to the formality and tone of communications. Open, honest exchanges tend to create deeper connections with clients, for instance.

5) Engagement: The level of engagement and preferred communication channels. Some clients are happy with periodic check-in calls and quarterly meetings, whereas others might prefer weekly calls and more hands-on engagement.

Therefore, find out what the customer’s engagement expectations are and their preferred method of communication. Determine if you can realistically meet this expectation. If not, it’s essential to negotiate an agreeable solution that works for both parties.

6) Accountability: Degree of responsibility and ownership. This applies to various aspects of the client’s relationship with your organization. For example, if customers choose basic onboarding instead of purchasing in-depth training, they need to understand what that means to them. Then if they decide that they want more training, there will be a monetary cost.

Likewise, a product or service, in and of itself, won’t automatically generate the client’s desired outcome if they fail to take responsibility for any related behavioral changes. It’s the account manager’s responsibility, in this case, to guide the client through the steps needed to change their behavior. Then the client is accountable for adjusting their behaviors to achieve the desired outcome.

7) Knowledge: What each party needs to know and to what degree so they can meet their responsibilities. If a shortfall is identified, it’s important to address this by leveraging appropriate resources.

Continually Deepen Client Connections

Effectively managing client relationships is not a one-and-done process. Account managers must remain abreast of evolving client expectations as individual and company circumstances, characteristics, and capacity change.

In even the best of times, failing to keep up with changes within customer accounts puts valuable client relationships at risk. In times of economic or market uncertainties situations change quickly, creating a need to remain vigilant of shifting expectations to build stronger bonds with customers.

Ensure that this expectation discussion occurs routinely by including it in what we refer to as the “Know” step of our KAM Process™, where KAM means know, act, measure.  This cyclical process acts as a roadmap for account managers, so they never have to think about what is next. This allows reps to focus on strategic efforts instead of tactical activities and deliver greater value to their clients more consistently.

Revisiting these expectations routinely helps account managers remain aligned with clients, maintaining a win-win exchange, deepening client connections, and building trusted long-term relationships.

Looking for more insights from customer engagement experts like JC Quintana? Register for KAMCon.

CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.