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By Chasing New Business, Are You Chasing Away Now Business?

By Marsha Lindquist

Many businesses focus so much time and energy chasing new clients that they forget about the clients they already have. This is a risky strategy at best; there’s no guarantee that the new clients you’re pursuing will come on board. And if you ignore your current client base, you risk losing clients who could provide new business in the future, through referrals and by offering you more work with their companies. The fact is that you simply can’t properly nurture current business when you’re so busy hunting down mere possibilities.

Every day that you don’t spend focused on your current clients, you lose opportunities for future business. Follow these five fundamentals to maximize your current client base and reap its unique rewards.

1. Pay attention to your existing customers. If you don’t, you can be certain they will seek out your competition, who are only too ready to pay attention to your clients. It doesn’t matter how good you are at courting new business if you ignore the customers you already have. Their disenchantment with your company may not be with the technical aspect of your work, but will more likely be an emotional issue. When your clients don’t feel cared for, even if you delivered what you promised and technically did your job, you will lose business.

You need to manage clients once you bring them in, as success lies not in sheer numbers of clients but in your clients’ sense of well-being, trust, and satisfaction with who you and your company are and how you treat them. An organization that devotes all of its resources to new business development but can’t be bothered to sit down with current clients and do a monthly financial or project management review, or strategic and operational planning, is headed for trouble.

2. Manage your clients’ expectations. If most or all of your attention goes to acquiring new business, odds are you do not give current clients what they need from you in terms of work performance. Deliver substandard work and they’ll go away. On the other hand, if you are actively looking at the needs of your current clients, are sensitive to what they expect, and give them your best, you’ll meet and even exceed their expectations.

If your clients want a report every Tuesday at noon, and you can’t deliver it until close of business Tuesday, call and tell them. Or promise something Friday and find a way to deliver it by Wednesday. Managing clients’ expectations simply means looking at potential issues and handling them before they become problems—a strategy easily done if you’re properly tending to your clients.

3. Be the solution for the future. Growing existing clients is far easier than prospecting for new ones; you’ll spend less energy, time, and money. Demonstrate the breadth of what your business is capable of doing, even as you perform the work you were contracted to do. Show clients how you can serve them beyond what you’re doing for them at the moment and they’ll come to think of you as a resource in the future—a business with the knowledge and talent to offer a solution or recommendation for every need. With a satisfied current client, whenever something comes up, they won’t look to someone else to handle it. They’ll give the business to you, and even if they know you can’t do it, they’ll ask for your referral.

For example, a current client who’s been properly nurtured, whose needs and expectations have always been met by your organization, might ask for your advice about someone to draft a contract for them. Though that’s not your organization’s field of expertise, happy clients see you as the solution. You’ve met their needs consistently, and they come to expect that you will be able to do so repeatedly and into the future. So your reward is building your business without having to prospect for new clients.

4. Get in their face. In order to feel a sense of continuity, a connection, and a history, your clients need to know you. To make this happen, you need to be there, literally, where they are on a regular basis. You can’t sit behind your desk, e-mail the work to them, and expect to truly build a relationship—even if you do the work well. If you are an “absentee” business, clients are not going to think of you, even when you call them on the phone. So, if you have something to deliver to a client, do it in person, rather than via e-mail, or do both, so you make yourself available.

Use the time you’ve spent courting new business to court your existing business; take loyal clients to lunch and woo them. Make client calls. The more often you can be there, the more often they will give you something else to do. You’ve cultivated your clients, and they believe you’ll be able to solve any problem for them, somehow, so you’re not stalking them or annoying them. When you’re literally in their presence, they’ll welcome you and find work for you, so the time and money it takes to be with them is nothing compared to the benefits you’ll reap.

5. Ask for referrals. Satisfied clients will happily refer you to others who have problems you can solve. There’s that new business you want so much, and you’ll come to it with the endorsement of an organization that already thinks the world of your work. Don’t hesitate to come out and ask for referrals; it won’t occur to some clients to point you toward other organizations unless you ask them to.

Focus on the Now: If you follow these fundamentals of current client cultivation, you’ll rarely have to go out and plow new territory: most of your business will come from existing clients. While you should still spend about 20% of your time and energy looking for new business, the bulk of it should be spent either working with existing customers to get new work, or pursuing new business from your current clients’ referrals. Get out that new business proposal in the evening; during the day, pay attention to what you already have. You may find that the new business you’re looking for is right before your eyes.

Read other articles and learn more about Marsha Lindquist.

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