These Boots Are Made for Talkin’

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To forge stronger client relationships, turn to the trail

Last month, I had the pleasure of spending a week hiking in two of America’s most amazing national parks: Glacier and Yellowstone. My wife and I have long been entranced by the wonder and rugged beauty of the American West and the deeply personal connections one can only make with the great outdoors when you lace on a pair of boots and descend into the wild.

Photo Credit: Trey Smith

You may be saying to yourself, “Well, this is nice, but what’s it got to do with client relationships?” 

Stay with me here—there’s a method to my madness. During one of our longer hikes through the Montana wilderness, my mind wandered a bit, and I found myself thinking about the parallels between what it takes to plan and execute a successful hike and what it takes to develop and grow an effective, long-term client relationship. It turns out they require a similar approach.

Preparation is everything

The first step to planning a successful hike is to understand the complexity and unique characteristics of the selected route. One must consider many variables before you ever step foot on the trail: the length of the hike, elevation changes, potential fluctuations in temperature, and the weather forecast. In a canyon, what goes down must eventually come back up, and you don’t want to find yourself at the bottom of a steep descent without the time or energy to make it back topside. You also want to make sure you wear the appropriate clothing for the season and elevation so you don’t end up roasting or freezing.

How does this relate to client relationships? Much like understanding the parameters of your hike, you must understand your client’s needs. Before you begin a project with a new client, you must become knowledgeable in their field. Do a deep dive into their industry, business, category, competition, and brand. Find out what makes their brands tick. By knowing the ins and outs of your client’s brands, how they work, and what they stand for, you’ll better understand your client’s needs and how you can help solve their unique challenges. This upfront research and planning will serve you well in the long run (or long hike, as the case may be).

Photo credit: National Park Maps

Patience will help you go the distance

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Patience and fortitude conquer all things.” This is certainly true for both successful treks and enduring client relationships. Don’t rush into your hike without the necessary training or due diligence on your proposed route. Once underway, pace yourself. If you’ve planned properly, you’ve allotted a reasonable amount of time and effort for your hike. Stick to your plan and don’t rush things. Whether you’re fording a challenging stream or slogging up a seemingly never-ending set of switchbacks, patience and stick-to-itiveness are your friends. 

The same goes for patience and fortitude as you build long-term relationships with your clients. It takes time to grow truly meaningful relationships. Slow down every once and awhile. Listen to your client, get to know them, and share a bit of yourself in the process. Remain calm and collected, even when faced with adversity, and you’ll instill this same calm and a sense of confidence in your client. Remember, it’s not a race. Growing client relationships into long-term partnerships and collaborations is a continual proposition that needs to be done one step at a time, with more than a little hard work.

The right gear never weighs you down

No matter if you’re in the backcountry or the office, you must always be prepared with the appropriate tools and skills. On the trail, your essential gear for a day hike should include a comfortable pair of hiking boots, a backpack that doubles as a reliable source of water, a map, compass, some warm clothes, sunscreen, and a hat. Also, be sure to pack a first aid kit, flashlight, matches, perhaps a knife, and some high-energy snacks to keep you going. These items are the absolute basics you should always have on hand, even for a routine day hike.

In a business environment, your essentials are less tangible but no less important. There are three must-haves I always make sure I carry into every client relationship.

  • Empathy: Understanding your client’s emotions makes them feel valued and more likely to stay the course with you. Whether resolving creative differences, budgetary challenges, or simply chatting with a client who’s had a bad day, empathy (along with the previously mentioned patience) will help you navigate to a resolution.
  • Confidence: That deep dive into your client’s challenges gives you the foundational knowledge to bring real, actionable solutions to the table. This will result in more confident client interactions and potential opportunities to broaden your reach or services.
  • Active Listening Skills: Really listen to your client and understand what you hear. When you combine active listening with a brief summation of what you just heard and processed, it demonstrates your grasp on the task at hand and makes it much easier to resolve.

Photo Credit: Trey Smith

Whether you’re on the dusty trail, the conference room, or your home office, planning and preparation are the building blocks of most successful ventures. The payoff is the euphoria of reaching the end of the trek and the satisfaction of a valued client returning for that next big project. So, lace up your boots, head toward the trailhead, and get ready to work on making those client relationships grow.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the mountains are calling.