Your clients look to you for more than just project work. They want to know what problem patterns you’ve seen in their company, challenges you think they’ll be facing in the short- and long-term, and new opportunities, trends, and technologies they should be taking advantage of (along with which to avoid).
In short, they want your expert insight and recommendations beyond any one engagement.
If you’re going to do this, you need ways to communicate beyond just project status meetings.
• Share information informally. For instance, if you come across an article covering a topic you just discussed with a client, send an email with a quick note and a link. Just say, “FYI,” or “I thought you’d be interested, after we had that conversation about X, Y, and Z.” This is a fast and easy way to connect, while also sending the message to your client that he or she is a priority for you.
• Invite them to events. Hosting or attending an event or seminar you think your client would be interested in? Invite them to join you.
• Connect on social networking sites. Send your clients invitations to connect on LinkedIn. Post regular content that you think would help them (this might include content that will be read by your entire audience, but your “real” audience may just be the client). Interact on Twitter with your clients’ accounts.
• Connect them with your other clients. Have one client doing something you think another client would benefit from? Connect the two over lunch or dinner. Even if the resulting connection doesn’t lead directly to a sale for you, you have strengthened your relationship with two clients. This will lead to more referrals and sales down the road and establish you as the inevitable go-to resource when the time comes.
• Schedule regular meetings beyond project meetings. These will give you an opportunity to discuss the bigger picture, rather than project minutiae. (You can read more about getting on client calendars here.)
• Notice their accomplishments. If your client is featured in a news story or wins an award, send a congratulatory note. Just a couple quick sentences are all you need.
A note of caution: If you did all of these things in the space of a week or two, it’s not going to look like you’re trying to make your client happy. You’re going to look like a stalker (or at least desperate). You won’t come off well. So make sure you try a mixture of these tactics, and throw in whatever else you think will work based on the specific relationship you already have.
The key is not using any one of these tools. The key is building and maintaining relationships. Strong relationships keep your client happy and your pipeline full of new business.