Customer Relationship Management Strategies for Software and Services Providers

These top 10 customer relationship management strategies for IT providers were originally summarized nicely on TechRepublic. I think these are relevant whether you are an IT consultant or software solution provider. These are powerful, so rather than create our own top-10 list, I've added my commentary to their list.

Here's the summary:

  1. Have a clear contract with your client - keep it concise, clear, complete, and in writing. Even if you are primarily delivering out-of-the-box software, your contract must indicate what is and is not included. If you do customization or consulting, it should include a detailed Statement of Work.
  2. Get to know your customer better - there is a reason "customer relationship" includes the word "relationship." Learn your client's interests and what keeps them awake at night. If you know more about your client than just the fact that they buy your software or service, you are much more likely to have them continue as a repeat customer.
  3. Ask more questions - don't assume that you know what is on your customer's mind or how they feel about your software or service. Most consultants and sales people do not focus on customer relationship management strategies and listen enough to their customer's real needs. Take the time to ask questions, and you will be able to better fit your product or service to their real pain points.
  4. Be willing to say no - if a client or customer asks you to do things beyond your skillset or your product's capabilities, don't be afraid to say no. You will build more respect with your client, and you will avoid the headaches that arise from trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
  5. Be willing to say yes - yes, I know this is the opposite to the tip above. The point is to really understand what you and your product can do, and what is outside your core competency. Do say yes to those opportunities that might be a step outside your current offering's capabilities, but in a direction that you want to grow, and then work a little harder than usual to overdeliver.
  6. Be a problem solver - any customer buys your product or uses your service because it helps them solve a problem or address a pain point. The more problems you can help them solve, the better. Understand your client's business challenges, and find ways for your product or service to provide solutions to those challenges.
  7. Keep your distance - no, I'm not contradicting myself again (see point #2). You want to build a professional customer relationship, not become "part of the family." This is particularly true for IT consultants who spend a lot of face-to-face time working with the client team. You need to balance these two customer relationship management strategies so you can know your customer but also continue to be "outside" in order to provide valuable, objective advice.
  8. Stay focused - don't just sign the initial work contract and then put it in a file and forget about it. Your initial contract should be the continuing guide to the progress of the project or installation. Stay focused on the commitments that were laid out up-front.
  9. Be a learner - don't deliver the same rigid process or methodology or solution over and over again. Make sure you understand the client's needs, and be open to new approaches if that is what is needed to solve their particular problem. Yes, there is value is having a tried-and-true process or methodology, but don't become constrained by it.
  10. Work at it - your business is not just delivering software or your technical service. You must also spend time working on your customer relationships. This is not something that just happens. It requires deliberate focus on these customer relationship management strategies, and hopefully will pay off with more ongoing revenue and a more enjoyable relationship with your customers.

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