A complete guide to successful client management

A complete guide to successful client management

Winning a new client is always a reason to celebrate, but the hard work isn’t over yet: Now they’re on board, you need to make sure they have a pleasant trip, or they’ll jump off sooner than you can say ‘pass the champagne.’

While keeping all your clients should be a priority, keeping things peachy isn’t just about retention. You want to do more than just satisfy them… you want to delight them. Happy clients are your own personal cheerleaders: They’ll sing your praises and give your reputation a big boost. They’re also easier to work with and more likely to throw more projects your way. So how do you go about impressing everyone who walks through your doors?

It’s a combination of attitudes, processes, and tools that, when combined, help you meet or exceed your client’s expectations. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is client management?

Client management is all about making sure the working relationship between a business and its customers is healthy. This includes making sure the customer is satisfied, knowing their needs, delivering on time, communicating well, and anticipating their needs. The ultimate goal is to boost customer satisfaction, maintain a good relationship, and — ultimately — keep the partnership going.

What does a client manager do?

A client manager is usually the intermediary between the project lead and the client themselves. They focus on the needs of both the client and the business — it’s a balancing act between making sure the customer is happy and ensuring the business relationship remains profitable.

Their role includes plenty of planning, relationship-building, and coordination. They also need to have good chemistry with the client.

Why is client management important?

Clients are the lifeblood of your business. They’re the reason your business exists. The ultimate goal is to keep the relationship going, but client management is about so much more than that: Satisfied customers are likely to buy more products or services.

Repeat selling is more effective than searching for new business because you spend fewer resources on marketing, leaving you free to focus on building up the relationship. Meanwhile, loyal, happy customers are way more likely to promote you to others via good online reviews or word-of-mouth recommendations — which keeps your reputation strong and could bring in even more customers. In fact, building strong relationships with your customers can be a key part of your sales strategy.

Key elements of client management

Client management is built on three key principles: transparency, communication, and alignment. Let’s take a closer look at what each of these means.

1. Alignment

Everything you do needs to align with the client’s objectives. If they’re in a rush to receive an app from your developers and you start talking to them about a website that isn’t needed until next year, there’s going to be a clash. Think about what your clients need, what their concerns are, what they’re most excited about, and what they value most. If you can directly answer these needs, everyone will leave the meeting smiling.

2. Communication

No one likes being left in the dark, and clients are no different. Think about the way you want your clients to see you, then do everything you can to support that image. On the flip side, if you don’t tell a client what’s going on, they’ll likely make assumptions, and, at that moment, you’re not in control of how they perceive you. This could cause big problems if left unchecked.

3. Transparency

Be honest because, if that trust is broken, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back. Transparency is a good principle to have at all times, but it’s especially important when things go wrong. Own up to mistakes, and be open about problems. It may be tempting to keep things quiet so the client doesn’t panic — but if things get worse from there and they had no idea, they’re in for a much bigger shock than if you’d told them initially. Being transparent with your client reassures them that you’ve acknowledged a problem and that you’re doing all you can to fix it.

9 ways to keep your clients happy

If you fulfill your client’s expectations and are a pleasure to work with, they’ll be happy. And happy clients stay… well… clients. Here are some tips.

1. Share your progress

Regularly check in with your clients so they know what’s going on. As we mentioned above, transparency and good communication are vital if you want to keep people smiling, so don’t shut them out — no matter how busy you are.

This doesn’t mean you need to give them every single detail — just give them key updates and easy access to information they might need. Even just letting them log in to your project management tool can do wonders for trust and reassurance (not to mention save you having to send out countless email updates).

Backlog’s subtasking feature gives project members a quick overview of project progression.

2. Create a roadmap

As well as keeping clients up-to-date as the project progresses, you also need to show them where it’s going. Before you kick off any job — no matter how big or small — tell them what the route to reaching the finish line looks like. Resist the temptation to go overboard and tell them every little detail: Instead, keep it simple with key milestones.

Giving your clients a roadmap means they’re not twiddling their thumbs getting impatient. Meanwhile, you’re answerable to deliverables throughout the project, which helps keep things moving and on track.

If you have lots of projects and tasks all going on at once, project management software can be a big help. Things like Gantt charts and work breakdown structures can help you stay on track. They can also help your clients visualize the project from start to finish.

Example of a Gantt chart in Backlog

3. Respond quickly

When a client asks you something, respond within a reasonable amount of time. Within 12 hours is ideal; 24 at a push. If it’s going to be anything longer than that — for example, they’ve asked your question that needs a thoughtful answer — just send them a quick email letting them know you’re working on it and when they can expect a response.

4. Be professional

It’s important to communicate professionally when talking to clients. That doesn’t mean you need to get rid of all personality, but maybe hold back on the jokes and gifs until you’re absolutely certain it’s ok. Let them take the lead and mirror their tone.

5. Ask for feedback

Clients appreciate it when you give them the chance to speak. Even if they have no concerns or queries at that exact time, it lets them know that they have the space to talk, be heard, and have their opinions taken seriously. And if they do have worries or concerns, it means you get to hear about them sooner rather than later — which means you can fix the issue, and your clients aren’t quietly stewing over something.

Ideally, have a client communication plan in place to formalize the whats, whys, and hows of how you’re going to stay in touch. It could be a weekly, monthly, or quarterly reminder — and it can take place face-to-face, over video conferencing software, email, chat app, or phone. Whatever you do, make sure it’s consistent. Here are three steps to formalizing your feedback process:

  1. Put someone in charge of the task
  2. Select the right communication channel
  3. Set up a communication frequency

6. Be transparent

As we mentioned above, transparency goes a long way towards building trust and soothing client worries. Be open as open about expectations, delays, and issues as you are with good news. If you sugarcoat the truth and your client finds out, it’ll be tough to rebuild that relationship. On the other side of the coin, if things do go wrong, being open right away could actually build trust, because it shows your clients you’re willing to step forward and hold yourself accountable.

7. Be organized

Being organized means you look professional, you know what you’re doing, and your clients know they can trust you. It’s not just about meeting deadlines: it’s an entire way of presenting yourself — from responding to emails on time to dressing smartly and ensuring the work you do is high-quality.

It’s also about making sure you have clear processes in place behind the scenes. A proper sign-off process means that all work is accounted for and completed properly, and you have the documents to prove it. The same goes for keeping emails, agreements, and contracts. Ensure everything is kept and stored correctly so that if you do need to go back through things for whatever reason, it’s still there.

8. Manage expectations

Your client wants the best value for money, and you want what’s best for your business. Sometimes those two things aren’t fully aligned and, when that happens, it can become problematic. Usually, it’s more a case of the client not fully understanding how resources work or getting carried away rather than them trying to take advantage of you — either way, it’s important to have your project scope well-defined and clearly communicated in case of a clash in expectations.

9. Learn to push back helpfully

Saying no is never easy; even the most experienced project managers struggle with this. And while no one likes doing it, there are ways to go about it that make it much less difficult for both parties.

Before you say no, be absolutely certain you know what the client is asking: You might not need to say no after all, or perhaps their new perspective is showing you something you’ve missed. If it’s still a ‘no,’ here are some ways to do it productively:

  • Can you show off your expertise by explaining why the client’s idea won’t help them? Use this as an opportunity to show them you’re on their side.
  • Will their request cause problems in other areas of the project? If so, explain this and offer alternatives or weigh up the options with the client.
  • Do you just not have the resources? Be open about this, rather than overpromising or saying a flat no. You can then offer advice and alternatives — for example, hiring outside help or delaying a deadline.
  • Is it outside of the prearranged scope? Be firm but gentle when explaining this. Offer alternatives and be transparent about additional costs.

How project management tools help you manage business relationships

When it comes to client interaction, the more streamlined you can make things, the better. There are so many tools out there now designed to help you do just that.

Backlog, our own management tool, is a cloud-based platform that keeps all your data in one place — including work breakdowns, Gantt charts, archived versions, and more. To help teams, stakeholders, and clients collaborate, it also includes automatic notifications and progress charts that your clients can see, depending on how much access you grant them. This means no more email trails and lengthy phone conferences: The client can log in with nothing more than a password and instantly see how the project is progressing. Meanwhile, you can spend less time on minor admin tasks and email updates and more time delighting your clients with great work.

Georgina Guthrie Georgina is a displaced Brit currently working in France as a freelance copywriter. Before moving to sunnier climates, she worked as a B2B agency writer in Bristol, England, which is also where she was born. In her spare time, she enjoys old films and cooking (badly).