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Should You Pursue Friendships With Your Clients?

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The answer is a qualified ‘yes,’ using a few simple but effective approaches.

My own insurance broker readily acknowledged the potential benefits, not only personally but for his business, of forging friendships with clients. Still, he balked:  “How can I possibly be friends with so many of my clients?”

Good question, the answer to which comes down to personal preference. You have to want to invest the time. If you’re willing to do so, there are systems that can help make it work. But it takes commitment and follow-through.

First it’s important to be clear that by friend, we mean friend in the context of a business relationship. (Although I’ve often seen this lead to genuine, personal friendship with clients. That’s happened at least a dozen times in my own career.) These types of friendships are a terrific way to stay top of mind, which is where you want to be with a client/prospect.

Friends, even in a primarily business relationship, tend to know a lot about one another. You understand your client on a personal level: day-today and ongoing internal challenges, preferences, time issues, attention to detail, etc., etc. And you understand your client’s business issues: insurance needs, changing needs, budgeting and business opportunities.

It’s really about building mutually advantageous relationships with a level of trust. Invest the time to build these kinds of relationships and you’ll reap the benefits.

Just about everybody prefers to do business with people they like. Think of the simple things in your life: favorite hair stylist, coffee shop or restaurant. I’d be willing to bet they’re your favorites because, all other things being equal, you like the people there.

The friendships we’re contemplating here start with you liking your client, even a difficult client. Outstanding salespeople are very good at that.

The process involves very simple elements such as thank-you notes to clients: “Thank you for your business,” “Thank you for the opportunity to present the proposal,” even just “Thanks for taking the time to meet with me.” This works best with a short handwritten note sent through regular mail. Skip the impersonal email — it won’t get much, if any, attention in a cluttered inbox.

The friending process (and we’re not talking about Facebook here) can include the simplest of useful gifts such as a laminated card with your 24/7 contact information. It’s amazing how helpful that one little thing can be to the client and to the broker. Many of the top salespeople I know keep a stockpile of gifts to hand out at meetings. In the same vein, be attentive by sending birthday wishes, anniversary cards, etc. These are simple ways to demonstrate to your friends how you value them.

It helps to keep track of discussions with clients so you can send them relevant information when you come across it. For example, if you’ve been talking about cyber insurance, providing information about security breaches can be timely and compelling.

Make an effort to find news about your clients’ professional interests. It’s easy to set up Google Alerts to feed you with news on business developments relevant to clients. You want to be seen as the person who takes the time to notice things and respond to them. LinkedIn is a terrific source for tracking changes at companies, especially personnel changes. Make a point of connecting with all of your clients on LinkedIn. That applies to prospects, too.

Communicating regularly with your client base gets them engaged with you, even if you don’t have time to speak with them often. Newsletters are great at building relationships and keeping in touch. You can test a welldesigned e-newsletter or something as simple as a Tip of the Month.

I wrote a book about the relationship marketing phenomenon called Customers For Keeps that talks about “friendship branding,” a concept that’s about always keeping customers top of mind. The longer you stick with it, the better you get at it. Eventually, you’ll have the kind of relationships that generate referrals and open doors when a client moves to another company.

Test some creative new ideas, put together a plan and stick to it. Increased goodwill and incremental business will follow. Just remember to think of your clients as real friends and treat them that way.

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