Entrepreneurs are busy. Consider all the effort that goes into fundraising, developing products and services, finding market fit, and new hires. One crucial skill that may not get enough attention—until it becomes all consuming—is managing client relationships. Working with clients can be cumbersome and take a lot of time, especially if the business is too early stage to support a client success team.
Bree Kellum Balogun, Senior Director of Account Management at REVOLT MEDIA & TV, knows how to cultivate successful, healthy client relationships. During her career, she has worked with an impressive roster of clients including Fiat, Walmart, and Coca-Cola.
She says managing relationships is like sitting shotgun during a long road trip. You aren’t behind the wheel, but you are helping navigate the journey. That requires listening, positive thinking, and cultivating strong connections that withstand wrong turns and bumps in the road.
Kellum Balogun joined a LIFT Labs Female Founders and Funders event for a virtual discussion with Aize Asowata, Marketing Manager at Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs. Here are five takeaways to help you become a trusted resource for your clients without burning out in the process.
1. Be present and available
To be a true partner, be available at every step of the journey. Make yourself accessible during all parts of a project life cycle — from brainstorming to execution.
“If you are only showing up for big meetings or the tail end of a decision, you are not really going to add value,” she said. “I take it upon myself to address the impromptu issues that nobody knows they need until the moment they need them.”
2. Become a trusted resource
All business relationships are bound to hit rocky points. What gets you through is strong relationships. Clients need to trust that you have the integrity and know-how to figure out a solution.
“It’s not about avoiding tough conversations. If you are doing it right, you are going to have some bumps in the road. That’s just life. Delivery dates will be off; budgets will get blown up,” said Kellum Balogun. “It’s much easier to give bad news to people who like you.”
3. The little things go a long way
Founders have likely heard some of the buzz phrases associated with client relationships. Under-promise and over-deliver. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Those are great high-level strategies to shoot for — but remember that small gestures add up to big results too. For example, communicate with people the way they like to be communicated with, even if it’s more work for you.
“When it comes to communication, make it easy. Wherever you are, I will meet you there. Sometimes I am taking an email from somebody and texting it to somebody else. Any form of communication that works, I do it. Yes, it’s exhausting and makes for busy work but my clients appreciate that I get back to them.”
Kellum Balogun considers phone calls a lost art. “I try my best not to deliver bad news or something major in email. I pick up the phone.”
4. Get comfortable saying no
Scope creep is real. Clients can often make requests that may not be part of the initial agreement. Set boundaries from the beginning. Relationships will evolve, but initial expectations play a key role throughout.
“You don’t want to push back on the little things, so establish those boundaries early on,” she said. “Often, that’s well-received. Sometimes clients simply don’t realize that little asks add up.”
5. Avoid burnout for everyone’s sake
Not every issue is an emergency requiring your immediate attention. Of course, you want to make clients and customers happy but remember, burnout is real and can hit an entrepreneur hard. Kellum Balogun says it’s important to find activities that help you decompress.
“It is important to me that I close my computer at 6 o’clock and be with my 3-year-old son for dinner and our bedtime routine,” Balogun said. “I’ll log on before I go back to bed but those few hours in the evening help me recharge and reset.”