The project has finished, can we still talk

by Ben Paul

One of the most common issues I hear from clients and others organisations is how they can talk to their contacts once the work has been completed. It is almost as if they have only had one sole reason to speak and that is to deliver the service for which they can send their invoice for. Then once that final invoice is sent, well what do you talk about?

Why your client doesn’t respond to your messages outside of the project

I’ve even had some people tell me that it is their client who either doesn’t want a relationship with their suppliers or that they are just simply extremely introverted or rude! There is of course a slim chance that this could be true but in my experience it is highly unlikely. So why aren’t they responding?

  1. The only value you give is in the work you do. Which is great, it is important for any business to deliver their service or product well. However, assuming you have competitors with similar offerings then you’re in danger of either a) being replaced if your service level slips or b) getting driven down on price since they can buy the same/similar service down the road. In terms of longer term relationships though, the main downside to this is that they only talk to you when they need your service. Quite often once they have scoped the project out and they then need delivery help.
  2. You lost interest once you got paid. So you’re toasting a successful project delivery internally. You hit all the required KPI’s and you’ve been paid, that’s it right? It is amazing how many people don’t know the value that their client got from the project. The reason is simple, they never asked. They may have asked questions like, “Were you happy with our service delivery?” “Did you like our team?” in some ways all self-serving questions for your business to improve what it does. Good to do but it misses the main point. Did you ask, “How did this project impact on your business and what you wanted to achieve?” In short did the client achieve or exceed their desired outcome? If you don’t ask this, not only will all your case studies be un-compelling or even boring, but more importantly your client thinks you don’t really care about them, or what they want to achieve.
  3. You took no interest in their world outside the project. You got on great during delivery, exchanged stories about your weekends, chatted about TV or sport, yet you don’t know what to talk about now the project has finished. It’s possibly because you never took an active interest in their role within their organisation, their personal drivers or even what other things they are working on. It may actually be that your project isn’t the most important thing to them, but do you know what is? All that time working together and you may well be none the wiser.

How to break the cycle and build a meaningful relationship outside of distinct project work.

You’ve realised that the current cycle is most likely an expensive and frustrating way to win work. You have to tender for every project which costs time and money.  You also only find out once the tender lands, yet you know the client and could have helped them to shape a better project brief and scope if they’d talked to you earlier. So how do you build a relationship that means they’ll want to meet with you regardless of whether they are engaging you on work or not?

  1. Take an interest in what’s important to them. Not just in the project but also outside. What is important to their organisation and what they are trying to achieve? What’s important to her or him in their role, be it now or in the future? I would recommend planning one or two questions you can ask in each meeting that will change the relationship and will demonstrate you are interested in their wider world. Why not ask what their other priorities are?
  2. Keep in touch in a meaningful way. Once you know what’s important to them, keep an eye out for reports or third party intelligence that you think they might find useful. Then when you find it, email it to them with a short note, pointing out the things of interest to them. This info may well help them but if nothing else it simply shows you care about them. It is acts like these that start to build trust.
  3. Close out your project the right way. Check in with them that the final outcome meets their organisational and personal needs. Find out in what ways it actually benefited them. Show a real interest in where they are going to next, and perhaps offer some insights or contacts to help them with their next stages if appropriate. They’ll appreciate this. If you help them succeed as their career grows, they’ll most likely take you with them or even introduce you to their boss.

To summarize, if you have the courage to have a deeper conversation than just the technical service you provide, you’ll not only understand your client better, you may also be able to ask them questions in every interaction that help to unlock or clarify their thinking. The key is to be curious and seek to help them. If you do this, you’ll have plenty of reasons to talk all year round.

This post first appeared on Ben’s LinkedIn page. If you’d like to comment or join in this conversation, please visit the post here.

Of course if you have stuffed up the project then that will also cause problems to your relationship with your client. If that’s the case, read this article from Keith Dugdale for some practical tips.