Building Successful Relationships and Managing Challenging Clients

Lionel Grealou CRM Sales 3 minutes

It is obvious and common knowledge that (with reason):

The client is King… i.e. the client is always right (aka never wrong).

In business to business relationships, successful client relationships are typically based on mutual value sharing, trust and respect, as well as successful people to people relationships. Understanding and providing best solutions to customer’s requirements assume the ability to anticipate and overcome 3 challenges typically faced by account managers, engagement managers and consultants:

  • The predictability challenge – subject to changes in the external environment, being able to understand the big picture and how it links to customer and competitive contexts.
  • The customer challenge – subject to changes in the attitude and behavior of customers, which need to be understood and managed.
  • The market challenge – subject to the growth of globalization, global competitors and partners.

Customer satisfaction is the key to marketing success and improved profits. Increased customer satisfaction generates positive word-of-mouth and brings in new customers. Satisfied customers are more likely to view the supplier as less risky and thus are more likely to adopt other products or service from the same supplier. Customer satisfaction has a positive impact on customer retention, which increases repeat sales. Customer satisfaction can also contribute to reduced costs, e.g. reduced cost of sale, reduced complaint management, increased loyalty, reduced transaction cost, economies of scale and scope, increased employee engagement and, in turn, increased productivity.

Customers create customers.

Though loyalty does probably not only follow from satisfaction… Satisfaction is undoubtedly necessary for loyalty, it may not be sufficient. Loyalty will increase or decrease rapidly above or below certain levels of satisfaction, but in between it is relatively unaffected by the level of satisfaction. This is because the relationship is affected by the customer, and by the nature of the engagement.

Ensure customers are satisfied, and loyalty will follow.

Factors that will affect client relationship include customer emotions, according to their level of involvement in the transaction or relationship, levels of pressure from the business, political factors, etc. Satisfaction takes more time to build for business to business services in which customer experience is relatively high. Maintaining customers happy and achieving high levels of involvement require operating in 10 respects:

  1. Encourage active dialogue and forward planning
  2. Mobilise customer communities
  3. Involve the customer and manage diversity using the relevant “lenses”
  4. Have a genuine care for shared success and value
  5. Use all available channels and manage expectations accordingly
  6. Focus on solutions rather than problems (customers never lose arguments, let them save the face)
  7. Share openly points of view and repeatedly seek for alignment
  8. Consistently deliver
  9. Honestly admit mistakes / issues and move forward
  10. Know when to say “no”, and sometimes “goodbye”

Another important consideration in dealing with challenging clients is to show that, where relevant, the organization is willing to put its employees first as:

The way you treat your employees is ultimately going to be one of the biggest drivers of how they treat customers.

Considering that customers are also people, it is perhaps more realistic to assume that, as Bob Lutz put it:

The customer isn’t always right.

Customer expectation needs to be managed (by people) at every step of the sale cycle. Happy customers are typically the ones seeing value in engaging with suppliers-partners who act as trusted advisers – people who are not shy to disrupt and challenge the customers for their best interest. 

What are your thoughts?


  • Lutz R (2003) Guts: 8 Laws of Business from One of the Most Innovative Business Leaders of Our Time, Revised and Updated, Wiley.

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 29 June 2015.

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

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