At long last, the handshake (metaphorical, or literal, or both) has arrived. The deal is sealed and the client is signed, so it’s time to celebrate. Gather everyone to dish out the appropriate praise. Who put the most work into the pitch? Who nailed the prospect research? You’ve earned a short break to relax, let off some steam, and get some much-needed sleep.
Emphasis on the modifier: a short break. Instead of kicking back and taking it easy once you’ve got a contract in place, it’s imperative that you quickly renew your efforts and start working as diligently as you can. Allow me to explain why the hard work begins after the client is won.
Winning a client doesn’t automatically get everything set up for the impending business arrangement. You need to handle all of that, and you likely need to do so imminently to get things ready for the work to get underway. Both parties involved need to know things like how you’ll deal with communication (how frequently you’ll discuss progress, which people will be responsible for arranging meetings, which tools you’ll use etc.) and when you’ll expect payment (it’s vital that you get paid on time to protect your cash flow and avoid corrective overspending).
Some of this may have been figured out during the negotiation process, depending on its length and depth, and the core of your documentation process should already be in place. For instance, you should have templates for everything from emails and helpdesk exchanges to legal terms and even invoices (see this resource if you’re not familiar). But those templates need to be filled, and since every client is unique, your approach will need to change somehow.
You might take the view that you’ve secured the agreed amount of money and don’t need to put in extra effort: after all, you can always find a new client to replace this one. And yes, that’s technically true, but is it a good idea? Not only is it almost always harder to win a new client than it is to retain a current one, but it’s also true that lasting clients are more valuable.
Clients who’ve stuck with you for a long time will trust you implicitly. They’ll be more receptive to what you can offer them, and they’ll be more willing to invest significant sums in whatever you bring to the table. But clients will only stick with you if you show commitment to them, and that means putting in hard work on their behalf.
There’s a good chance that you talked a big game during the pitching process but didn’t go into specifics, merely saying you’d achieve remarkable results and take your client to the next level (plus other things of that nature). That’s typically fine, but when the project begins, you can’t have “take the client to the next level” as a practical and trackable goal.
As early as possible, you need to convert the broad high-level goals into specific milestones, then explain those milestones to the client and get them approved as suitable targets. The longer you leave the goals undefined, the more opportunity the client will have to imagine loftier goals that you can realistically achieve (something that usually leads to disappointment).
Lastly, even if you truly don’t care about retaining your newly-won client (maybe you were unsure about the match during the pitching process and just went along with it for financial reasons), you still need to work hard and get good results, because it’s about more than the value or approval of that client. It’s also about your reputation.
Suppose that you don’t get worthwhile results for your client, leading to a swift conclusion to the client relationship. Perhaps you give off an air of indifference that makes it clear how uninvested you are in the project. That’s the kind of attitude that can prompts a disgruntled outgoing client to start making their dissatisfaction public — telling anyone who’ll listen that your company isn’t to be trusted and should never be hired.
Maybe the client was the main issue all along, sure, but you can’t control how your clients act. You can only control how you act, and you need to show professionalism in all situations, because you never know when your actions and attitude will be placed under public scrutiny and risk your overall industry reputation.
When you’ve won a client, you deserve to enjoy the moment — but not for too long, because you need to get on with the hard work of delivering results. Your relationship with the client (along with your general professional reputation) depends on it.