Startups need cash. From customers. From investors. From most anywhere they can make it.
Wherever it comes from, cash is necessary to survive.
But something has been driving me crazy lately and it has everything to do with cash opportunities after a sell has been made.
Mind my rant for a minute.
Like I said last week, running GAN Ventures means I’m talking to startups constantly. And they seem to be doing pretty great at raising capital. They also seem to be doing pretty great at selling their products. But — when it comes to managing an account after gaining a new customer — they’re often blowing it.
Here’s how I see it happening: You (promising new startup) just got fresh investment capital. You’ve landed a few clients. And you’ve got everyone thinking you’re hot stuff.
Then, your client asks you for something…
Immediately, your first reaction is to think they’re stupid for asking. Or you can’t believe they’re asking to increase the scope of your original agreement. Instead of seeing their ask as a potential for more revenue and them wanting more of your help, you see them as a thorn in your side. Or you “don’t have time” for them because you have so many other important things to deal with today.
But here’s the deal. Your client will pick up on your tone. They can sense your frustration. And, they can make understandable conclusions about how you run your business. All because they asked for your help.
If startups are going to be successful for the long-term, money can’t just come from investors or new business. Your company simply won’t be around for very long. Which is why a solid, thoughtful account management strategy is vital to the long-term success of your company.
Doing it Well
But I don’t want to just rant without giving you some solid advice on how to run great account management. So, I asked our team and some of my close friends to give their best ideas on maintaining healthy client relationships, and here’s what we’ve come up with:
Be on Offense
It’s so easy to wait for your client to reach out to you when they have a problem. It’s a much easier way to manage a client. But the issue with this kind of passive contact is that it leaves you only talking to them when they have an issue. They’re only reaching out when something breaks. And when that happens, you’re acting on defense. You can’t really build a relationship with them because you’re in a mini-crisis mode.
Instead, consider an approach that puts you on offense. Jump on a regular call with your clients to get to know them personally. Ask how things are going with the family and their business overall, and build a relationship. It’ll also give you an opportunity to hear valuable feedback from them — what seems to be going well and what you might improve.
Even if calling everyone isn’t manageable at scale, consider regular emails or a drip campaign (or something!) that follows up to ask how things are going. There’s at least one creative way you can be on offense, no matter your budget, staff size, or number of clients.
Have Integrity with Your Follow-Up
Your customer wants to trust you. When you say that you’re going to follow-up and don’t, you immediately lose trust (like with your investors). Your customer doesn’t feel important. They don’t feel like a priority. And they don’t think that you need their business. So when you say you’re going to do it, actually do it. And, do it in the exact amount of time you said you were going to.
Be on the Side of Your Customer
This is a big one and I see startups struggle with it often: Managing conflict well. You think you have this great product or service. You sell it to a customer. The product gets implemented. And then…the customer needs changes. You think, “How could they want changes? We laid out the perfect plan at the beginning of the relationship. How dare they ask for something above what we discussed?”
But I think there’s at least one way to lean into conflict that I’ve found works really well: Ask the client about the problem they’re facing and how it would be solved by the feature change or new addition. It’ll help them feel heard. They’ll see that you’re trying to understand exactly what’s going on at their business and sense that you care about their struggles. Plus, new features mean having a more robust product — which just might land you your next customer.
Over-Communicate — And Solve Their Problem
You know those times you feel like you’re just shouting into a void? When you have an issue, then try to communicate that issue to someone so it can be resolved, and then…nothing? Don’t do that to your paying customers. Your customer will reach out to you. The worst thing you can do is not respond. Even a response that says you’ve received their note and will get back to them is better than nothing.
And going one step further: I read this great Harvard Business Review article recently that showed how people who were only given empathy when dealing with an issue didn’t like the interaction nearly as much as someone who was given a roadmap for how their problem was exactly going to be solved.
So, some tips:
- Communicate deadlines before the client checks in.
- Tell clients when unexpected hurdles come up and how it might affect timelines or expectations.
- Even if you don’t know an answer to a question, tell them you’re looking into it and will reply as soon as you do.
- Actually, even if you take longer than you hope, check in again. Let them know you’re still working on it.
- If any of the work they ask for is going to require additional cash from them, tell them before you do the work. Explain why, but don’t feel a need to be defensive. If they’re truly asking for something that was beyond the original scope of work, they’ll likely be completely understanding.
- If any of the work they’re asking for will require additional cash and you’re not sure how much (for instance, you’ll have to spend time doing research before you can even answer a question, and the amount of research time is unknown), let them know! It’s okay to not know an answer and your time is valuable. But the more honest and forthright you are, the more trust you’ll gain from them. And, as above, continue checking in with them in the process. Say something like, “We spent two hours on this today, and I’ll continue keeping you apprised of where we’re at. If we ever start approaching something that will be challenging for you and your budget, please let us know! We want to make sure to balance your needs with your capacity.” It’ll go a long way.
Treat your Customers as Humans
And finally, the second you only see your customers as a means to you making more money, you’ve already lost. If you have that mentality, they know it and most likely won’t be your customers for long.
Instead, in your emails, phone calls, and all of your discussions, ask:
- How can I have a tone that shows empathy?
- How can I make sure I’m getting to know them as people, with families and friends?
- And, how can I make sure that I have my customer’s success in mind, just as much as I have my own?
Originally published at www.gan.co on June 6, 2018.