Securing and Enabling Business-to-Business Relationships for the Long-Term

Securing and Enabling Business-to-Business Relationships for the Long-Term

Hans Muessig

I've never met a client relationship that could not be improved. And I'll bet you have not either. Think about a couple of yours. If they are like most I've seen over the years yours are OK. Or GREAT! Or perhaps barely OK. But all of them likely have challenges around effective communication, alignment on priorities, meeting client expectations, and strategic (as opposed to tactical) planning and execution. All of these challenges negatively impact client satisfaction.

The current economic climate only magnifies this challenge of maintaining and improving client satisfaction and loyalty. And many clients are increasing their demands for value in the services provided, and may be critical of services received. What worked in the past to stay on top of a client relationship often does not work today, and you can be faced with frustration, mistakes, lost opportunities, and disappointed clients.

Two things are absolutely clear:

  1. It is critical that you make sure your client relationships are secure and robust; that your client is completely satisfied; and, that you are positioned to capture (or recapture) your client's business as the economy recovers.        
  2. Businesses that take advantage of the current economy and change their game to build tighter, more robust, strategic relationships with their clients will gain significant competitive advantages over others who are retrenching and reducing sales, service, and marketing efforts.

How do you make sure you are meeting (exceeding) your client's expectations, that between you goals and priorities are aligned? You may be doing a great job, but how do you make absolutely sure your client is satisfied with your services and that you have their loyalty and future business?

Exceeding Client Expectations

Most clients are interested in more than competent and responsive services, but their priorities are very clear: until they are satisfied with the basics they will be reluctant to send additional business your way. Nor will they respond favorably to additional services and a more complex relationship. Indeed, poor relationship management and service may lead them to take their business elsewhere.

When (and only if) a client's day-to-day needs are satisfied, they will look for (and pay for) engagement and insights that enhance their business. Most clients expect a business partner, not someone who simply provides products and services. They are looking for that "added value" that marketing folks talk about.

How do you transform a client relationship from a transactional, customer/vendor arrangement to one where you are a "partner" and trusted advisor; where insights and knowledge of your client's business position you as an expert who will truly help them be more successful?

How do you change the game and excel in today's economy? 

Start with the day-to-day, transactional, tactical stuff that seems to challenge many teams. Take the time to understand the client's expectations and priorities, and collaboratively build processes to exceed expectations. This up-front effort will pay huge dividends. There will be no wasted or misguided effort because you will be focused on EXACTLY what the client expects. This is how you begin to secure the relationship in these tough times.

Once you and your client are satisfied that the day-to-day requirements are being consistently meet and exceeded, clients will open the door and allow you to become a "partner" and trusted advisor. As you learn more about the client's business, as you work collaboratively on their future success, you further differentiate yourself by bringing your insights, your "value add" to the planning table.

This is how you change the game; how you build client loyalty, and secure and expand a profitable, long-term, strategic relationship.

Shared Expectations

I've seen hundreds of teams do this successfully through Shared Expectations. In less than a day a Shared Expectations session transforms a relationship more quickly and thoroughly than any alternative, enabling the relationship to truly grow, and demonstrating a level of commitment to your client that is unmatched.

In a nutshell, a Shared Expectations session enables two parties – you and your client – to take the time to:

  1. discuss your expectations of one another; clearly identify where those expectations are being met or not;
  2. recognize a common set of priorities; and,
  3. act on those priorities by collaboratively developing a concrete plan to transform the relationship and move forward by focusing on client priorities and expectations.

An experienced, neutral facilitator guides you through the structured, five to six hour process and takes the notes.

Shared Expectations focuses on the "hows" of the relationship: how the relationship is working and how it is not, where do you both want to go with the relationship and how do you get there together? It is an opportunity to step back from day-to-day exchanges and invest in the future by listening to the client, and then collaboratively defining a process to address their day-to-day and future business needs (which becomes your business development plan). At the end of the day both you and your client have the same goal: a mutually-beneficial relationship.

A session is the fastest way to achieve this because your client will tell you exactly what their priorities are and how they expect you to meet them! And you and your client will have a jointly-developed plan that will ensure success.

The Shared Expectations process is flexible and can easily address a wide variety of issues. The format and length of a session allow for productive, open discussion and effective, mutual resolution of expectations. The process also accommodates relationships at different stages. A session is appropriate whether the relationship is brand new, challenged because of client satisfaction issues, or plateaued and waiting to move to the next, more strategic, level.

  • In a new relationship a session will allow you and your client to determine how to work together effectively on day-to-day requirements, to define the engagement process as you learn their business, and to agree on how you will proactively identify the need for future services.
  • For the "challenged" relationship the first order is to deal with the satisfaction issues. A session provides a safe, neutral place to discuss all the issues, prioritize them, and then collaboratively build an action plan to resolve them to everyone's satisfaction.
  • For plateaued relationships a session provides a forum to explore a client's strategic goals and objectives and how you can act as a trusted advisor. The outcome is a plan for ongoing discussions of solutions and services you can provide that support the client's goals and objectives.

There are also some common themes that get worked through in every session. These include roles and responsibilities, processes, communication, a common definition of success and how to measure it, and a framework for ongoing business planning. Clarity around these issues is essential to a successful, profitable, and vital relationship.

I enjoy working with teams and doing these sessions. It is exciting to watch a team take full control of their relationship and collaboratively chart a path to mutual success. Clients are often the most surprised and pleased with the outcome of their session. They will frequently say something like "I wish we'd done this six months ago. We need to do it again in six months to make sure we are on the right track! Thank you."


The immediate outcome of a session is a secure, more open, collaborative relationship. The facilitator's notes – your action plan – from the day become the "roadmap" for how you and your client will change the game. Some groups use the Shared Expectations process to develop truly effective "balanced scorecards."

As you both work the action plan, you will be able to take more control of the relationship – with the client's concurrence – and effectively manage client perceptions. You will be able to consistently demonstrate your commitment to their business and ensure their satisfaction. And with more effective strategic planning (business development) you will confirm your role as a trusted advisor and build a solid plan for future business. Said one client: "this is the single most powerful tool you offer to change the direction of a relationship."

The lasting benefits of a session are substantial. What is in it for you:

  • Strengthened client relationships achieved because you know what the client expects and how to meet their expectations;
  • Clients will perceive you as focused and responsive to their business and therefore are more satisfied in the services and advice you provide.
  • Your business development work will be more productive; meeting client expectations means they will be more open to share additional opportunities; many of which will lead to new business.
  • Finally, your client will get exactly what they want: a competent and responsive advisor who clearly understands their business goals and priorities and proactively supports them.

It is a WIN-WIN!

Take the next step: Take control of your client relationships in a way you've never done before and enjoy the success and appreciation of your clients! Contact us with questions or to discuss one or more potential sessions. Follow this link to learn more about Shared Expectations.



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