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How To Build A Stronger Partnership With Your Clients
By Kay duPont   Printer Friendly Version

Webster's New World Dictionary says that a partnership is two or more people who take part in some activity in common, two or more people engaged in the same business enterprise and sharing its profits and risks, or two or more people associated in a business venture.

Does this define your relationships with your clients? It should. You have to be a partner and work as a team if you want to be successful. If you don't, you'll only have half as good a chance for success. And you'll probably be able to make only half as much money!

The answer to productive relationships with clients today is synergism: The simultaneous action of separate entities that, together, have greater total effect than the sum of their individual effects.

People who partner well don't carry magic wands in their pockets. You can learn how to work better with your client partners - even partners who have been imposed on you. Some speakers seem to think they are too important and have too many important things to do to worry about getting along and working with someone else on details. That's a mistake; a professional cares about the people side of their job too. And synergism actually makes your job as a speaker or trainer easier.

Here are eight ways to make sure your partnering gets off on the right foot when you're helping your client plan their event:

8 Principles of Effective Partnering

1. Be flexible. Clients no longer want canned programs or cookie-cutter approaches that we try to force-fit into their theme or situation. And they need us to be adaptable: ready, willing, and able to change our message to meet their needs and our program length to fit their agenda. They need us to be able to quickly define the scope of their project, understand their objectives, talk with their organizational representatives (management or participants), and design and deliver fast-paced, needs-based, interactive programs that get results for them and make them look good.

2. Communicate from the client's point of view. This is the best way to make sure we hit our target and keep our partnership strong. Unfortunately, no communication ever travels from sender to receiver in exactly the same shape as intended by the sender. And, no matter how hard you try, the message will never be what you say - the message is always what they hear. But to help insure that they hear what you truly mean, try to put yourself in your client's shoes while you're discussing the meeting plans. Play "what if" with their suggestions and inquiries to get them more involved and give them more ownership. Make sure you understand where they're coming from with their needs and requests, and what they're trying to accomplish. When you're not totally sure what your client means, or when you're not sure they understand what you mean, clarify quickly: "Did I understand you correctly? Did you say that…?" "You know, I'm not sure I explained myself very well. What I mean is…."

3. Clarify roles and expectations clearly and early: Who's doing what, by when, for how much. Each partner has responsibilities in the meeting-planning process, and each needs to clearly understand their responsibilities before the process begins. Remember, if it's possible to be misunderstood, you will be. Clarify everything: In what order things will happen, what might set the timeframe back, why you don't recommend certain ideas, what they can expect from day to day, what you need and by when. Put everything in writing. And make no promises you can't keep without alteration.

4. Ask more than you tell. Few people respond well to being told. Most people would rather be asked: "Are you sure you want to …?" "What do you think about this instead…?" But be sure to ask respectful questions; don't ever make people feel stupid.

5. Listen. Is there a difference between listening and hearing? Yes. We can look without seeing, we can love without liking, and we can hear without listening. Webster's says that hearing is "To perceive or apprehend sounds with the ear." Listening, however, is "To pay attention, to hear with thoughtful attention." You must listen with your mind and heart. And you must listen to the words and the music (the spoken and the unspoken).

The noted Harvard scholar Charles T. Copeland was once asked by a student, "Is there anything I can do to learn the art of communication?" "Of course there is," answered Copeland, " and if you'll just listen, I'll tell you what it is." There followed a long and awkward silence. The student finally interrupted by saying, "Well, I'm listening." "You see," Dr. Copeland said triumphantly, "You're learning already!"

6. Remember that your actions speak louder than your words. Body movement, eye contact, and tone of voice are critically important elements of your message. If there's a choice to be made between the verbal and the nonverbal, most people believe what they see. In fact, studies prove that approximately 85% of your message is nonverbal! And actions are seldom forgotten! Poor protocol, manners, or habits can hurt you perhaps even more than a strong message can help you!

7. Be image-conscious - for yourself and your client. Make sure your materials and program write-ups present you and your message exactly the way your client wants it. Do you photos and bios depict a powerful, all-business-no-play speaker or a friendly, down-to-earth, flexible speaker? Choose your meeting image to match your client's needs.

8. Be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is extremely important in your career and in your relationships with your clients. It's one of the attributes they consider very strongly when it's time to pick their presenters. Pros can always see the bright side of life, and they're willing to work at full speed to accomplish their goals and their clients' objectives. And if things go off track, as they often will, pros know they have the ability to change it again and make something good of it. Pros never say negative things about their client, their program, or their client's meeting-planning skills.

Enthusiasm is also the key to continued bookings these days. Clients just won't hire prima donas or unfriendly speakers anymore, no matter how good they are. They don't have to; there are too many of us for them to work with.

True enthusiasm comes from your heart, and it can move mountains and charm even the most difficult client. People will love you for your upbeat attitude. They will want to hire you, and they will want you to come back. When you're enthusiastic, everyone's happy.

9. Show people that you care about them and the success of their meeting. Successful speakers never miss a chance to recognize people (not just clients, but assistants, drivers, bureaus, etc.) for the little things they do. Somehow the busy speaker always has time to send a card, make a phone call, say thanks. It's one of the marks of a pro. However successful, professional speakers know that much of their good fortune is due to those around them.

10. Stay in touch. Call your clients just to say hello, not just when you need new business. Send them an article, call on their birthday. Don't forget that it's easier to rebook old clients than find new ones!

Remember the old adage: Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care. Is that true in the speaking business? YOU BET!

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