Learn some pro-tips for working with clients from Jennifer Belelie, Business Development Manager for Security Materials.
I recently joined the Xerox Research Centre of Canada’s Business Development team after spending several years as a research scientist and competency manager. It’s an interesting role and I’ve learned many things from my colleagues and interactions with clients. Here are my top 5 tips for client success:
It’s likely that your client has been thinking about the problem that they asked you to solve – a lot. Listen to what they say and what they have tried. Ask questions. Ask for clarification. The more you know before undertaking the project, the more successful it will be. You want to add value to your client’s business – you don’t want to tell them something they already know.
2. Understand your clients’ needs
If your client asks for a Chevette, it doesn’t make sense to offer them a Cadillac. Write a proposal that reflects the work that they described. If you believe that the project can benefit from extra research, add optional phases to the project. The client can treat it like a menu and pick and choose the best combination for them. This strategy avoids “sticker shock” and losing the business before you even get started.
3. Delivery is key
It is imperative to deliver on-time and on-spec. To increase the chance of project success, gut check project plans with internal subject matter experts before sharing with clients. Does the experimental plan make sense? Do you have the correct equipment? Are the estimated time allowances reasonable? Are any tests missing? These are all important questions to answer before committing to a project. If there are any discrepancies, discuss it. Work together to formulate a mutually agreeable solution.
4. Be honest
Is the project not going well? Be honest. Tell the client where you are struggling but make sure that you also share your mitigation plans. They will appreciate being in the loop, especially if the project outcome affects other parts of their business. The client may also have insights to share to help solve the problems that you are currently facing.
5. Meet frequently
Xerox is a global company – we are used to working on remotely located teams. When working on virtual teams it is critical to meet regularly to talk about project process to keep everyone connected and on track. If possible, plan to meet your client face-to-face periodically. Many nuances like facial expressions are missed over the phone. Breaks and meal times around face-to-face meetings are good times for getting to know your clients and connecting on a personal basis. These connections will help strengthen your business relationship.
BONUS TIP: Learn from each other
Working with clients gives you a sneak peek into other companies. For example, we learned about Smartsheet from an external client. It’s a cloud-based productivity tool to share data between multiple users – even external ones! It was a very effective way for us to collaborate and follow project progress. We received email notifications as soon as new data had been entered which meant we didn’t have to wait for meetings to learn results. We pivoted our experimental direction when necessary which allowed us to reduce cycle times.
Jennifer Belelie is the Business Development Manager for Security Materials and manages the Synthesis and Formulation group at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada.