Pinnacle Group is known for maintaining long and meaningful relationships with its clients — so much so that we refer to them internally as “partners.” Our strategy has always been to “land and expand” meaning that once we get our foot in the door, we do such a good job that we end up not only performing the services we were initially awarded, but also growing into new areas with the same client. I recently wrote about how to take client relationships to the next level for the Forbes Tech Council and as I thought more about it, I wanted to provide some specific examples of what this actually looks like at Pinnacle.
Before we even get into my three tips below, everyone at Pinnacle starts with the baseline expectation that we should be overdelivering in as many ways as possible. I’ve written about overdelivering on Medium before. The idea is that we don’t just want to provide good service to our clients, we want to provide great service and be crazy good at what we do. We want to delight clients so they are blown away at the level of personal touch and expertise provided.
Below are Pinnacle Group’s top 3 practices for building great client relationships along with some practical examples of how we use them.
1. Be Available and Responsive at (Almost) All Times.
Building client relationships is not for the faint of heart or the lazy. It’s hard work and can sometimes require 24/7 availability and responsiveness — especially when a new relationship is being implemented or to solve a difficult issue for the client. And this doesn’t just mean answering phone calls, in today’s world phone calls have become less common and less important. Our teams are connected through email, text, videoconference, as well as communication platforms like Microsoft Teams. Pinnacle’s associates are ready at a moment’s notice to answer questions that clients may have or to get things done on a client’s behalf. It’s not an easy job, but it pays off tremendously in client satisfaction, employee engagement, and outcomes. We especially love to receive recognition such as a Supplier of the Year award from our clients. Obviously, we don’t engage in this practice solely for the accolades, but it is nice to be recognized for our hard work. Our true reward is the longstanding relationships we’ve had with clients that often go back decades.
2. Listen Deeply and Act on the Message.
In the Forbes piece I talked about the importance of active listening. That’s pretty standard advice you could get just anywhere. But what we’re really after is being able listen deeply, understand the importance of what you’re hearing, and then to turn what you hear into action.
As happens in any industry, trends shift, needs evolve, and clients may stop needing your services (or need less of them). When that happens (not if), being able to listen is a matter of survival. Pinnacle has been in that position before and rather than panic and shut down, or go into denial while the business slowly erodes, my response is to start asking questions until I identify ways Pinnacle can continue to add value — even if this means going into new lines of business or into new states or even countries.
On more than one occasion we have pivoted our business and our offerings to meet a client’s needs. It is never easy, but on at least one occasion post-9/11, it was what allowed us to stay in business.
What we learned from that experience was the value of constantly asking questions, researching, and predicting client needs before they even know they have them. Anticipating what a client might need is one of the most vital and important parts of customer service and it cannot happen without listening. A client won’t need to look for another supplier in your space if their current needs are met by your company and you stay a step ahead of their future needs.
3. Be Ready When Opportunity Comes.
When Pinnacle Group was a much smaller company, we had the opportunity to respond to an RFP from a major corporation in a new business line we had just entered. While we had some early success, we were by no means experts in the area at that time. But we saw the potential of that opportunity to be a changemaker for the company so we pursued it aggressively.
It was daunting. We became obsessed with that potential client, doing everything in our power to show that we could provide what the client needed. And, to our eternal gratitude, they believed in us and awarded Pinnacle Group the business.
But then reality set in — we had to deliver on what we had promised. Among other things this meant a rapid expansion from 15 states to 49 states seemingly overnight and led to quadrupling Pinnacle’s annual revenues within 12 months. How did we get through it and not only survive but go on to build one of the leading practices in this area in our industry? We were prepared for the opportunity when it came and had been preparing for it for years.
Pinnacle Group has always been adaptable and entrepreneurial, and it was just that type of approach that was needed here. Our strong financial practices and controls coupled with our ability to attract and retain great people and motivate them by providing opportunities for autonomy and growth were the cornerstones that held the company together as we took advantage of an opportunity that changed the company’s trajectory forever. Looking back on it, there’s not much else we could have done to be more ready to take advantage of that opportunity.
Looking forward, we always strive to be as a ready for the next major opportunity as we were for that one. History often repeats itself, most recently with our ongoing global expansion, which happened in a surprisingly similar way. While we have evolved our approach and are more sophisticated, well-equipped, and scalable than we were then, we are essentially following the same pattern and evolving to prepare for the opportunities of tomorrow.
If you’d like to see more of my advice on client relationships, make sure to check out my piece for the Forbes Technology Council.