Whether you have won a new client through a competitive procurement or informal approach, or have a 20-year relationship, client engagement throughout the full lifecycle is vital to maintain and build on that relationship with further business wins. As the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) says, “Effectively executing on a contract is the best way to position for future business with an account or client organization. Apply account management techniques, such as regular customer contact, product demonstrations and upgrades, social marketing, and participation in relevant industry and trade events. These activities demonstrate an ongoing interest in the customer’s business and success and help position your organization for future opportunities.”
If you are not already carrying out account management activities with your clients, consider what you are missing out on – both in terms of nurturing a strong relationship, but also in your preparations for the next tender with them. As the BOK states “In a tough competitive market, retaining the business you have is just as difficult as winning new business”.
Your account management team could include project managers, account managers, business development managers, and even service delivery managers and front-line staff. They have daily access to your client and can seek out and gather the vital intelligence to not only improve your current performance, but also identify improvements and innovations for the next contract. You could instigate ad hoc ‘water cooler’ conversations with client representatives to discuss any frustrations, or share/discuss knowledge pieces via e-letters and social media, you can invite them to events, and engage right through to formal performance reporting, client review meetings and satisfaction surveys.
In last year’s blog about bidding as the incumbent, we shared that complacency is the biggest reason for loss. You should put in as much effort on a tender whether you are bidding to a new client or a current client. Alongside your usual account management activities, if you have a formal client engagement function, start them talking to your client for at least six months before a planned retender. Even if you don’t have a formal function, send somebody to talk to the client. The purpose is to give the client someone more independent than their day-to-day contact, so they can be open on issues or ‘wishlist’ items, or simply bring a new way of looking of things from the client’s perspective. Feed all gathered intelligence into your bid planning, content planning and of course the final submission to show that you are listening to your client. And like the advice for interviewing for an internal position, assume the interviewer (or in our case, client) knows nothing about you. Tell them too much, rather than not enough.
Last week’s blog talked about learning from a client debrief, win or lose. Again, the same applies for new clients or an established client in this scenario. Where you win a retender, never assume just because you have worked with the client before, you know what they are thinking, that they thought everything was fine in your submission and, it follows, your relationship. Use every opportunity to learn what they think about you, what you do well, and how you can improve.
Put yourself in the client’s shoes; would you award more work to the supplier who is consistently talking to you, investing their time, holding review meetings, sharing knowledge and interesting articles/blogs/press releases, and seeking to make improvements and add value at every stage – or the supplier that does a good job, but who you only hear from at contract renewal time?
Don’t just think won and done; client engagement should be an ongoing process – it is called an engagement ring after all!