Building long-term relationships

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Greg Bethard, dairy nutritionist from Wytheville, Va.

Retention of clients is vital to maintaining a successful consulting business. Most all consultants have been in the unpleasant situation of being fired, but successful consultants are able to maintain a core group of loyal clients. Dairy clients are typically hard-working and dedicated professionals. They work hard and expect the same from their employees and particularly from their high-paid consultants. Consultants make mistakes and are wrong on occasions, and these mishaps can cost the dairy money. Forgiveness is more likely given if the effort was strong and the intentions sincere. Loyalty and long-term relationships are based on trust and belief in your abilities and work ethic.

While visiting the dairy, the consultant must stay focused on the operation and issues at hand. No cell phone calls or interruptions. Your client has paid for your time, and does not appreciate paying for you to make or receive calls unrelated to their business. These courtesies emphasize the passion you have for their business and the focus you have that day. Clients will also understand when you do not take their phone calls promptly on other days as you are extending the same privilege to other clients. However, all phone calls should be returned by that evening at the latest.

Any promised follow-up must be timely and professional. Follow-up letters should be in the hands of the producer within 48 hours if e-mail is an option. Follow-up articles or material should be sent within one week. Continually bringing value is difficult with long-term clients, but necessary for retention and long term relationships. Ideas garnered from other clients, meetings, or professional interactions are a prime source of added value.

A consultant should be humble and welcoming of others ideas and opinions. If this type of relationship is fostered, the dairy is more likely to keep you in the loop when competitors or others are on the dairy providing insight, advice, or criticism.

While all consultants have good and bad times, character traits such as personal integrity, work ethic, dedication, open-mindedness, and courtesy go a long way to forging long-term relationships.

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