Just because a client is a friend doesn’t mean they won’t leave you

The idea of a ‘great client relationship’ is nothing more than a dangerous illusion, says Tony Goodwin…

Have you ever basked in the comforting glow of your wonderful client relationship? Maybe congratulated yourself for building such a strong bond that you know the names of the MD’s kids? If so, this article is for you.

Having a ‘good relationship’ with a client is nice, nothing more. Yet time and again I see professionals mistake their ‘good relationship’ as the raison d’être behind their client’s decision to remain part of their life.

That’s dangerous.

It’s crucial to remember that the relationship comes as a result of the business solution you are providing. If you start to think the relationship is the solution, you’ll soon be standing above a trapdoor.

The relationship illusion

The fact is that if you stop doing good business, clients will go elsewhere, however strong the perceived relationship. Equally, relationships will not withstand poor business models or attacks from better models. If you want an example, look at Uber. I liked Addison Lee and I like black cabs, yet Uber is easier and cheaper so gets my vote despite any vague feelings of disloyalty. Remember, too, the old generation of stockbrokers, who virtually died out after 1987’s financial ‘Big Bang’ because they were all relationship based.

Relationships come as a result of providing great service and solutions

The danger of the relationship illusion is that you stop asking yourself what your client really wants. You don’t bother trying to understand them anymore and you become complacent by ignoring competitors and failing to examine new ideas coming into the market. Instead you whisper to yourself “my client won’t leave me” as you recall the time you got drunk together at Lord’s in 2014.

Business is business

Focus on your business arrangement and forget about the idea of relationship. It pays to remind yourself – almost weekly – of what it is that your client pays you for. It’s OK to talk about the football, what they got up to at the weekend and how their kids are getting on, but remember that, actually, you’re not friends in the true sense of the word.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that relationships don’t play a role in business – what I’m saying is that they always come as a result of providing great service and solutions. Stop providing those and the relationship dies.

Remind yourself why that client came to you in the first place…remind yourself not to let complacency sneak in

And as an entrepreneur I believe it’s fundamental that existing relationships do not stop customers seeking new suppliers. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, it means the market works, that it’s fair, and that it’s not based on old ties. That’s particularly important for young entrepreneurs. Imagine how demotivating it would be if their brilliant new business model hit a brick wall because it intruded on an existing cosy relationship.

So, next time you find yourself feeling nice and comfortable because you’ve just had a jolly bit of banter with your client, remind yourself why that client came to you in the first place. Remind yourself not to let complacency sneak in. Remind yourself that you’ve got a good business arrangement based on what you supply, not a ‘great relationship’.