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How to Make Your Clients Sticky

There's so much emphasis in business on winning clients, we tend to neglect the follow-up. Once they're in your stable, how do you keep them from running off with the competition?

No client is the same -- success in keeping them 'sticky' requires a commitment to focus on their needs while coming up with ideas to keep you ahead of the competition. Every client needs to feel they are in completely reliable and trustworthy hands, so they can be 100 percent assured of your commitment to them and their needs. Here's what I've learned about client management from one of my biggest customers, the fashion brand Benetton:

  1. Super-serve them. Go the extra mile in all you do. I never close down business for my clients, even on the weekend. Having my cellphone on was essential one weekend when Benetton had problems with some technology we'd supplied. I was able to quickly reach out to a contractor who happened to be near the flagship store, and he was able to go in and sort out the problem. Being available for my client meant we could troubleshoot rapidly and fix the problem within the hour.
  2. Live and breathe their brand. It's the only way to get to know their culture. I might not have been a Benetton customer before the project started, but by the end I knew a lot about the brand and their industry. I bought a suit and other clothes from their store, I checked out their competitor's stores, and I read the retailers' trade journal.
  3. Be a headache-remover. Get a reputation for being a safe pair of hands. When it was clear my client had a problem -- even though it was outside my project -- I did what I could to help.
  4. Do things you might not get paid for. Devise ideas that will benefit them. Benetton needed a new tagline for an in-store promotion. They didn't have a budget to pay my time, but I took on the project anyway, coming up with the slogan they used and earning kudos throughout the organization for my willingness to help.
The goal is that your company becomes an extension of the client, you are the outsourced marketing department, IT guys, training division, whatever. That puts you in a powerful position. You know the brand and culture of the organization so well -- aren't they better off sticking with you than trying a new supplier?

So keep on giving the client what they want. Whether it's your hands-on management or the free concert tickets they love, get to know what currency keeps them sticky.

Image courtesy Flickr user Tiago Rïbeiro, CC 2.0