On the surface, client management does what it says on the tin: it’s how you manage your relationship with your clients. But what does that mean in practice and why is it important for your business?
There are 4 stages to client management:
- Interacting with potential clients, e.g. sales calls, quotes, proposals, etc.
- Onboarding new clients, including contracts, briefing meetings, sharing information to work together, and potentially invoicing at this stage.
- Working with current clients, handling communications, information management and task management to deliver your service.
- Past clients – getting repeat business and referrals.
What makes an effective client management system?
A system includes both the tech you use and the processes you follow. An effective client management system will handle every stage of the process well, it will allow you to easily track clients through the process and most importantly, it will enhance your relationship with your clients. To do this you need:
The right process
The process is at the heart of an effective client management system. It needs to be clear to you and clear to your clients what happens at each stage. Consider why you do things in a particular order, throughout every step of the relationship from start to finish.
The right tech
Depending on your business, the right tech for you could be a spreadsheet, it might be an all-in-one CRM, or it might be a combination of appointment booking software + task management software + a simple CRM, for example.
The right methods to store and share information
Again, this will depend on your business and how much information needs to be shared between you and your clients. Whether you operate client portals, use Google Drive or pick another option entirely will reflect the frequency and type of information to be shared.
The right methods of communication that suit you and your clients
Slack, Voxer, WhatsApp, email… it’s better to make an active choice than to fall into the nearest option available, or have your clients end up making the choice for you.
Plus, the capacity to carry out every task in the process
This could mean outsourcing, or making better use of tech to find that capacity.
Of course, when I say ‘right’ I don’t mean there’s one right answer. It just means the right solution for you and your business.
Common pitfalls in client management for small businesses
Client management processes often develop organically, leaving room for all sorts of problems as the business grows. A few of the common issues are:
Only prioritising current clients
When time is scarce, it’s all too easy to just focus on delivering for your current clients. After all, they are the ones paying your bills this month. But neglecting your past clients means you could be missing out on easy repeat business or referrals. And if you’re not focused on getting new clients, then you’ll be struggling to pay your bills in the future, never mind expanding your business.
Forgetting to take your own needs in to account
It’s great to have systems that work brilliantly for your clients, but if they’re a struggle for you behind the scenes, or simply don’t match the way you like to work, then interacting with clients is going to become a chore. And that’s a bad path to go down if your business relies on interacting with clients (as it does for most service providers).
Or only taking your own needs into account
This is much rarer, but occasionally a service provider will be so focused on creating a business that works for them, they’ll end up ignoring their clients’ needs. That business isn’t going to last long as the clients will get disillusioned and go elsewhere.
Thinking that your inbox can work well for information storage + all communications + task management
Most people know their inbox should not act as an entire business processing area, but with the sheer quantity of emails we all get, it can end up this way unintentionally. It’s better to find alternative easy options for storage, communications and task management, so your inbox is much clearer and calmer.
Choosing and diving into the tech before mapping out your process
If you dive headfirst into the tech, you can end up over-complicating your process because it’s dictated by how the tech works. On the other hand, you might find yourself continue to do some tasks by hand unnecessarily because it feels too complicated to set up the automations and workflows.
Why is good client management important for small service-providers?
If you’re reading this, then it’s unlikely that you’re operating terrible processes or giving your clients an awful experience. However, there still may be a few niggles. Good client management should be largely invisible to your clients: your smooth processes will make life easy for people to work with you and you will be anticipating their needs. This is where repeat business and referrals come from.
On the other hand, amazing client management is very visible to your clients. It can be seen in anything you do that goes above and beyond their expectations, making you stand out. And this is where raving fans come from.
How robust your client management is can also affect your income. Ad hoc systems are fine when you’re starting out or just have a few clients and leads, but once you’re getting plenty of enquiries and your business is booming, a lack of an effective client management process can lead to missed potential clients, or clients who don’t feel fully taken care of. And if you’re juggling too many client tasks in your head then you’re eventually going to end up dropping a ball, which could lead to a costly mistake.
Finally, as a small business you don’t have the support of sales people and account managers to make sure all your clients’ needs are taken care of. So, save your sanity by making your client management as easy as possible for yourself.
Effective client management doesn’t have to be complicated, but it’s important to give it some focus in your business. Your reputation, your bank balance and your sanity will thank you. To check that you’re not missing anything from your own client management journey, download your Client Management Journey Checklist below.