SYMPOSIUM SPEAKER – October 21st, Shari Harley

Presentations Scheduled for Tuesday, 10:20 & 11:40 am
Approved CE: Denied or NO CE: MN insurance, ND insurance, WI insurance

How to Say Anything to Anyone: Setting Expectations for Powerful Working Relationship & Where Did My Clients Go? Get More Clients. Keep More Clients

"I’m Losing Clients and I Don’t Know Why. Never Be Fired by a Client Again and Be Surprised."

We’ve all had clients we thought were satisfied, and the next month they’re off our books and we don’t know why. Your clients are under no obligation to tell you why they replaced you. In fact, they have no incentive to give you feedback. Why would clients risk your defensiveness? It’s easier for clients to disappear than tell you what they don’t like about your products or services.

It’s fine to get fired by your customers. You probably know you could make more money, with fewer headaches, if certain clients would take their business elsewhere. It’s not fine, nor is it necessary, to be surprised by client defections.

Almost every client defection is predictable and preventable, when you have candid relationships with your customers.

Kick off and maintain your client relationships differently, so clients tell you the truth when they’re dissatisfied, giving you a chance to retain their business.

Here are a few suggestions from my new book, How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide to Building Business Relationships that Really Work. When kicking off new client relationships tell your customers, “We’re excited to be working with you. If we work together long enough, we’re going to make mistakes. We’d like the kind of relationship that you can tell us what is and isn’t working. And know that we appreciate your feedback, and we’ll say thank you.”

When is the last time one of your vendors admitted they’re human, told you up front they know they’ll make mistakes, genuinely wanted your feedback, and promised not to get defensive when they got it?

The next step in the business relationship building process is to ask your clients questions your competitors are not asking. The conversation can sound something like, “I want to be sure we’re meeting your needs and don’t want to have to guess what’s important to you. Can I ask you a couple of questions?”

Here are some questions I suggest asking, that also appear in the book How to Say Anything to Anyone:

  1. Who else did you considering hiring?
  2. Why did you hire us instead?
  3. How will you know we’re doing a good job? What does success look like?
  4. What are your pet peeves? What could we do that would annoy you?
  5. How often do you want to meet, and what should we discuss during our meetings?
  6. Are you a big-picture person or more detailed oriented?
  7. Do you want to meet in person or over the phone?
  8. How do you like to receive information? Printed, voicemail, email, or via text message?

You can learn much of the aforementioned information over time by observing your customers’ behavior. But why wait? By the time you’ve observed customers’ preferences, you’ve also likely made mistakes clients aren’t likely to tell you about.

Asking these questions is not a one-time event. Tell your customers, “I’m going to revisit these questions a few times a year. Know that I genuinely want your honest feedback. We can’t fix problems that we don’t know exist.”

Then you actually have to ask. Telling a client you’re going to ask for feedback and then not doing so is worse than saying nothing at all. Also, please don’t ask, “How are things going?” “How is it going” is a greeting not a question. It’s vague. And if you ask a vague question, you’ll get a vague answer.

Ask specific questions quarterly. Remind your clients you really want their feedback. Promise them you’ll say “thank you.” If you become defensive – which is a very human and normal thing to do, apologize and do better next time. Every time you make it difficult to tell you the truth, you train people to replace you versus give you a chance to retain their business.

Many business owners feel that clients won’t be comfortable giving feedback directly to the business owner. So they send a marketing person to gather feedback or send a survey. You want your clients building relationships with you! Why have them talk with someone else? And surveys don’t build relationships. Companies bribe clients to complete surveys with free trips because no one wants to fill out a survey!

There is great value when a senior leader humbles himself and connects directly with a client. In my experience customers, will tell you the truth when you ask and make it clear that you really want to hear the answers.

Asking for specific feedback and saying thank you is a differentiator that costs nothing. And in my experience, few if any business owners are doing it. Establish different relationships with your clients by making it safe to tell you the truth, and set yourself apart from your competitors.

Shari Harley is the author of the business book How to Say Anything to Anyone: A Guide for Building Business Relationships that Really Work and is founder and President of Candid Culture, an international training firm that is bringing candor back to the workplace, making it easier to tell the truth at work. Shari will be speaking at the October Symposium. Learn more about Shari and read an excerpt from her new book at

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