Simple defences to protect your key client relationships

Posted on: September 1, 2019

It’s a competitive market out there and right now your key clients are no doubt being targeted by a competitor. But doesn’t the long-standing relationship you’ve built up over the years, the insight you have and the way you work with the client count for something in defending off that rival approach? Perhaps… but then again perhaps not.


Dangerous assumptions

As businesses get busier they assume that, if their clients keep buying from them, they have secured that organisation’s loyalty and are successfully fighting off the competition. This isn’t always the case and it only takes an astute competitor who has…

  • Demonstrated it has really grasped that client’s issues and has better solutions for them
  • Offers a more proactive and attentive relationship with the client
  • Creates a more closely aligned business offering and approach to their needs
  • Delivers this from a more competitively structured pricing model

…. to win over that client.

In our work helping businesses plan and protect their key client relationships, a number of common threads emerge when they realise a key client relationship is potentially at risk. Here are four of them:


1. Increasing your number of advocates in the client

Quite often the relationship with the client flows through just one or two individuals. If that key contact leaves the organisation or gets promoted to another area, the relationship can flounder as there is no one else to champion your cause.

Action:  Review your client contact relationships.  Who else do you and your team need to build a relationship with.  Think about others in your client contact’s team, who they report to. Also consider other contacts in relevant departments.


2. Setting aside ‘thinking time’ about the client

This is in addition to the day to day work you do for them and enables you to understand what their short, mid and longer term issues are. This will ensure that your work, support and overall offering remains 100% relevant and they continue to rely on you. It will also help you to plan simple activities or ‘touch-points’ which keep you in touch and add value to them.

Action:  Bring together your team who support this client.  Share what each of you know about the client’s current challenges, opportunities and ambitions.  Familiarise yourself with their latest news (start with their website and social media) and what’s happening in their sector.  Also think about the relationships you have with each client contact – how strong and positive is it?  What knowledge gaps have you got and what potential threats are there to retaining this relationship?  Now draw up a plan to rectify this.


3. Using post-project reviews more strategically

If you don’t conduct post-project/assignment reviews with your client you can be missing serious insight. First of all this is a great opportunity to check whether your approach and how you support them is still valued. It also gives you a chance to explore where this project fits in with the next task on their ‘to-do’ list or other longer term goals… which help you to position your company for further work. By the way, this isn’t about sending clients a satisfaction e-survey, it’s about getting some quality face-to-face time with them.

Action:  Look at the projects coming up which are due to finish.  Book time in with the client for a post-project debrief to take place shortly after the project’s completion.  Try and capture insight and sentiment from your client whilst it’s still fresh in their mind.


4. Aligning your business with the client’s ways of working

The easier it is for your client to work with you; the more they’ll favour your company over others. This comes from getting to grips with how they like to work and communicate. It also means being clear about internal deadlines and the colleagues they need to satisfy. Become a supplier/adviser/agency they can always rely on and who actively demonstrates that it genuinely cares. Try and perfect the art of underpromising and overdelivering across your team.

Action:  Discuss amongst your team supporting this client what they’ve gleaned about how client contacts like to work and the key deadlines those contacts have coming up.  When confirming a project’s deliverables with the client in the briefing stage be sure to ask what formats, timescales/deadlines, level of information, communication points and means and any other key performance indicators they’d prefer.



Your key clients are crucial to your company’s success and a little careful planning can ensure they remain loyal for many years to come. The trick is not to rest on your laurels. Always assume a competitor is targeting them. The closer you can get to the client and the more they come to rely on you; the easier it will be for them to resist that competitor’s advances. You do need to put in some effort to get to that position but, let’s face it, it’s certainly worth it.

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