“Do you have any feedback?”
If you’ve managed clients at an agency, you’ve probably made the mistake of throwing this question into a client email.
Your goal was to show your client that you care about getting it right, but what you really did was encourage several rounds of feedback that drag a project past its delivery deadline.
As a client manager, your role is half project management, half psychology management. In this case, you failed at the latter. You placed a mental burden on your client to provide you some sort of feedback.
What you could have done is asked “Do we have your approval to move forward?” or “Do you prefer option A or B?” This would have created a simple, closed question for your client to answer with little effort. This isn’t about avoiding client feedback, but making things as easy for your client as possible.
So as a client manager, not only do you have to stay organized and move your projects forward, you also have to create a psychological safety net for your clients to make them feel like you’ve got this.
In this guide, we’ll explore the basics of client management, common pitfalls you should avoid, and steps you can take to improve your client management practices and retain more customers.
We’ll also provide an overview of the most helpful client management tools so that you can move past cumbersome email chains and interlinking Google docs to more effectively manage your client relationships.
What is client management?
Client management is the practice of cultivating and maintaining positive relationships between a business and its clients. This includes collaborating and communicating with clients throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
Client management aims to produce happy clients that stay longer and spend more money with your company by helping them achieve their goals.
Examples of client management in action include:
- Sales demos and proposals
- Client communication
- Relationship building
- Requirements gathering
- Project planning
- Customer onboarding
- Client satisfaction surveys
Benefits of strong client management
Why should you improve your client management practices?
Effective client management will boost your bottom line from many different angles, as you can:
- Close more deals and shorten your sales cycle with a better understanding of your clients’ needs
- Save time and deliver projects more quickly through efficient communication
- Retain more clients thanks to enhanced loyalty and trust
- Earn more referrals from clients who achieved their goals
- Boost the cross- and upselling of your services thanks to closer relationships
- Get more feedback to improve your services for other clients
What types of businesses practice client management?
Strong client management is most important in B2B sales situations with long sales cycles and complex projects. In this scenario, client retention is based on building strong relationships. In many cases, the relationship is the product.
Contrast this with a B2C situation where customer satisfaction is driven mostly by product quality, price, value, and brand reputation. In this case, there typically isn’t a sales process or a true person-to-person relationship between the company and customer. The product is a commodity to be consumed.
The most common business models that practice client management include:
- Agencies: Marketing agencies, creative agencies, digital agencies, and PR agencies
- Consultants: Large consulting firms (e.g. Accenture, Deloitte, McKinsey) or niche consultants (e.g. business strategy, HR, IT, green energy)
- Software & tech companies: Subscription-based SaaS companies or enterprise software sales
Examples of client managers
While client management is practiced at the business level, it’s ultimately carried out day-to-day by individual team members. What client management looks like at the individual level will vary from role to role.
Here are some examples of client managers:
- Account executives: AEs are salespeople responsible for closing deals with new customers, retaining existing business, and cross or upselling.
- Customer success managers: Part sales and part support, CSMs are responsible for onboarding new clients, helping clients reach their goals, and building customer loyalty.
- Consultants: A consultant provides professional advice based on their area of expertise.
- Account teams: Agencies often employ entire account teams—groups of AEs, CSMs, and other supporting team members—to manage customer relationships.
For freelance businesses, all of these roles are collapsed down into one person, making client management extra challenging!
The stages of client management
While the details of client management will look different for every business and for every role, the process can be broken down into six general stages.
- Information Gathering: Start by gaining an understanding of your client’s needs. What problems are they trying to solve? Why are they coming to you? This includes gathering client requirements on timeline, budget, and scope, as well as understanding your client’s mission, end goals, and key performance indicators (KPIs).
- Goal Setting: Agree on what it is you’ll deliver as the client manager. Understanding what your client is trying to achieve and not just what services they’re asking for will help you set effective goals for the project.
- Project Planning: Create a step-by-step plan of what strategies, tactics, and tools are needed to execute the project.
- Deliverables: With a project plan in hand, list the major deliverables (e.g. a TV commercial) as well as the smaller deliverables along the way (e.g. script, storyboard, video shoot, etc.).
- Staying in Sync: Over the service/project lifecycle, keep in regular communication with the client. Your job is to make life easy for the client, keeping them informed as to what’s coming next. Have a regular feedback loop of what’s going well and what’s not.
- Renewal: Once the project is complete or it’s time for annual renewal, keep the relationship going by signing the client on for more work.
Common client management challenges and pitfalls
There are plenty of potential friction points throughout the customer journey. Some of the challenges to juggle include:
- Multiple client stakeholders: Even if you’re dealing with a single point of contact, your client is likely to be made up of several stakeholders. The lead buyer may need buy-in from hidden decision-makers, including business leaders or security and legal teams.
- Multiple account team stakeholders: Your team likely has multiple stakeholders too. Sales managers, customer success, engineering, finance, and legal all want a say in how the client relationship is managed.
- Multiple objectives: This medley of stakeholders will have a variety of sometimes hidden or competing requirements and objectives, causing potential risks to the relationship.
- Multiple communication channels: Keeping clients aligned and sharing deliverables is made challenging by disjointed communication channels. Despite everyone’s best intentions, email chains, sales collateral, and planning spreadsheets can quickly pile up and get disorganized.
- Lack of feedback sharing: Without proactive communication touch points or opportunities for feedback, you may fall out of sync with your clients. This can be especially challenging in a virtual selling environment.
These challenges can quickly pile up, causing your clients to feel misunderstood, unheard, and unsatisfied.
Client management principles
Making your clients happy comes down to following a few foundational principles. While these tenets are easy enough to follow on paper, busy schedules and hectic inboxes make them difficult to pull off in practice without discipline and dedication.
Understand your clients
Much of the success or failure of your client relationships will come down to building an understanding of what makes them tick.
This includes understanding their goals, industry, their organization structure, their internal stakeholders and decision-makers, and business KPIs.
But beyond the cold, hard facts about their business, you also have to understand your client’s emotional needs. How do they communicate when things are going well? How do they express frustration (if at all)?
Some clients may be forthcoming with their struggles, whereas others may keep them hidden away. Don’t assume that things are going well just because you haven’t heard from your client in a while. Things may have gone quiet because they’re shopping around for a new partner.
To achieve this, practice empathy, ask probing questions and listen actively. The more you connect with your client, the more you’ll be able to help them.
Communication with your clients should be timely, efficient, and frequent.
You can think of this like watering a plant. To grow properly, it needs a certain amount of water, spaced out appropriately, and at the right time of day. You can’t dump a gallon of water on the plant once a month and expect it to survive.
Timely communication means communicating at the right moments. Sending a prompt followup after a sales inquiry or reminding your client of major deadlines will keep the relationship on track.
For example, bad news doesn’t get better with age. If you make a mistake or fail to hit a deadline, tell the client as soon as you can.
Efficient communication means respecting your client’s time by sharing only crucial information and asking direct rather than open-ended questions. It also means choosing the right method of communication for the message.
Not everything needs to be a meeting. Simple questions can be sent over email. Long explanations may be better sent as a Loom video. Bad news should be delivered over a phone call. Project plans are best communicated through a shared workspace that can be referenced at any time.
Frequent communication means choosing the right cadence of communication. If you don’t have regular meetings with a client, you’ll want to schedule communication touch points.
When communicating with clients, remember to include key stakeholders. You should also get to know each of your clients’ communication styles and patterns so that you can adjust accordingly.
Trust is foundational to any relationship. The same goes for relationships with your clients.
To build trust, be transparent and authentic. As a sales team, for example, your goal should be to match your customer’s needs to the appropriate solutions—not to hard sell them your product.
In a consultancy role, your goal should be to educate, not confuse. You’ll build more trust by explaining concepts clearly and simply rather than by trying to sound smart by using complicated jargon.
You also have to be dependable. Hit deadlines, own your mistakes, and bring decisive solutions when challenges arise.
Manage and exceed expectations
“Under promise, over deliver” is a tired expression, and one that should be retired. Managing a client’s expectations is about mutually agreeing on:
- Goals and success metrics
- Constraints such as schedule, cost, and scope
- Quality requirements and deadlines
- Communication methods and frequency
This means being transparent about what you can deliver and when, and what risks may come about during the project. Be sure not to stretch yourself thin and to add buffer time or extra room in the budget for unexpected (yet accounted for) bumps in the road.
Rather than under promising, you should communicate transparently, show your customers you care about their success, aim to exceed expectations, and celebrate wins together.
Make it easy
Your clients come to you to make their lives easier, not harder. Make it really easy to be your client. Your main point of contact should have all the tools and information they need to update and impress their boss and internal teams.
Stay organized on their behalf. Document everything. Report wins and challenges proactively. Ask for feedback regularly.
Whatever seems difficult for your client, improve it. If you’re frequently sending three emails back and forth to set a single meeting, use a meeting scheduling tool like Calendly. If you’re in different time zones, communicate times using their time zone.
📘 Related Reading: To learn more about customer portals, check out our complete guide to client portals.
Make it repeatable
Much like “eat healthy and exercise regularly,” all of the above advice can be difficult to pull off consistently—especially when you’re busy or stressed.
To remove the burden of managing all of the above manually, create repeatable and streamlined client management systems and processes that can be managed at scale.
For example, use client management software, tools, and apps, to create automated workflows and templates that can be duplicated from client to client. We’ll discuss client relationship management software below.
Client management tips and tactics
Here are some actionable client management tactics you can put into practice today.
1. Create a communication plan
Predictability inspires confidence. It’s better for both you and your client if you know the best methods for contacting each other. Set communication expectations that clarify:
- Frequently and format of customer touchpoints (e.g. Weekly meetings, quarterly business reviews)
- How project milestones will be communicated (e.g. Through a client portal)
- The most effective communication channel for smaller questions (e.g. Email? Slack?)
- The most effective channel for larger questions or escalations? (e.g. Video meeting)
- Which stakeholders need to be notified and in what circumstances? (e.g. Manager notified for purchasing decisions)
The plan should be created with your client and contained in an easily accessible document or workspace.
2. Create an action plan
In the same vein, create a mutual action plan or implementation plan that clarifies next steps. The action plan should be broken down into major milestones and sub-tasks per milestone, with each task assigned to the relevant person or team.
3. Create a single space for your client
Unfortunately these plans are quickly rendered useless if they’re not easily accessible. Therefore, it’s best to have all of your project information available to your client in one space.
But if you’ve ever managed clients before, you’ve seen how messy this can get. You’ve probably created a Google Doc or shared folder that links to several other Google Docs, spreadsheets, Trello boards, etc. Then, these documents get shared over long email chains and quickly become a tangled web that doesn't provide the client with any value.
Dock helps alleviate that challenge by creating a central hub that acts as the go-to destination for a client manager to work with their client. Using Dock, you can build a shared space that contains sales proposals, action plans, client onboarding, videos, and more, all in one place.
Not only does this make all of your documenting and planning more accessible, it also serves as a single place for communication, as clients can comment directly on individual items contained within your Dock space.
4. Proactively ask for feedback
You can’t expect every customer to offer timely and relevant feedback, so you should have a predetermined action plan for collecting customer feedback.
This applies both at the individual customer level and across customers. The exact type of feedback you collect will depend on your business, but it could include:
- A survey or feedback meeting after project delivery or major milestones
- A monthly Net Promoter Score survey
- An annual customer satisfaction survey
- Exploratory customer interviews
- Social media questions or polls
- Feedback forms on your website
5. Track client engagement
Beyond the direct feedback your clients give you, there’s lots to be learned from your client data. Make efforts to track as much as you can.
For example, use your CRM to track how often customers engage with your communication, or to see which emails they’ve opened.
Using Dock, you can track interactions with each element in your shared client workspace. You can then track which client team members interacted with sales proposals, project plans, or embedded videos. This gives you a clear idea of what matters most to your clients.
6. Leverage templates
It’s much easier to pull off all of the above client management tactics if you standardize as much as possible from client to client.
touchpointsBy creating a client management template, you can easily duplicate communication plans, action plans, sales proposals, and more.
For example, you can use Dock's client management template to easily document and track all of your customer touchpoints in one place.
For more inspiration, check out our gallery of Dock templates.
Client management software and tools
To scale your client management efficiently, you’ll need the right tools. Here’s a quick review of the most popular categories of client management software.
Customer relationship management (CRM) & email automation software
As the name suggests, a CRM is the fundamental tool for client management. Customer relationship management software allows you to:
- Store client contact information
- Communicate efficiently with your clients
- Manage your deals and pipeline
- Track customer interactions and analytics
In addition to contact management, most CRM software also include email marketing and automation capabilities where you can use customer information to create account-based or personalized marketing campaigns.
With in-person customer meetings becoming a thing of the past, video and meeting software help you connect with customers face to face.
But asynchronous video is growing in popularity too, as it’s often easier to record a video or screen share for your client rather than writing a long email or holding an impromptu meeting. Loom, Vidyard, CloudApp, Hippo Video, and BombBomb are a few of the more popular video messaging tools.
Project management tools
Gone are the days of using spreadsheets to track project deliverables and deadlines, as there are countless project management tools available.
Customer success & onboarding tools
Customer success software allows businesses to track and nurture the health of each customer account. These tools help you engage with customers throughout their lifecycle and capture feedback at key touch points.
As onboarding is a key part of the customer experience and post-sales experience, many customer success tools contain onboarding features. Onboarding tools allow you to:
- Manage and track onboarding and implementation tasks
- Store onboarding documents
- Provide progress visibility to all stakeholders
📘 Related reading: Customer Onboarding Software: 24 Tools for Onboarding at Any Scale
Remote collaboration platforms
For real-time visual collaboration and remote brainstorming, typical video software won’t cut it. Visual whiteboards and workflows make it easier to be creative on the fly.
No-code apps and tools
With the rise of no code, you should feel empowered to connect tools and platforms together to create automation workflows that help you streamline your customer relationships.
For example, you can use Zapier to create your own app integrations with a series of customizable triggers and actions. For example, you can connect Gmail to Dropbox, automatically saving any email attachments from your client to a shared Dropbox folder.
Shared client spaces
Even this list of tools is quickly piling up. To make it easy for your client, you can use Dock to gather everything in one place.
For example, take a look at this client management template space in Dock. This sample Dock space includes:
- A project summary statement
- Client and client manager contact details
- A meeting booking link
- A project summary and brief file
- Key milestones
- A project timeline, including a checklist of tasks and deliverables
- Other media such as sales proposals, videos, onboarding
Not only does this create one central space for documentation, it also creates one place for communication, as clients can comment or react to each element in the space.
📘 Related Reading: Sales Enablement Software Guide: How to build your sales tech stack
Improve your client management with Dock
Dock puts all of your customer deliverables in one place, acting as the go-to, central hub for each client relationship.
If your CRM is the backend of your customer relationship, Dock is the frontend of the relationship, where everything client-facing is available in one premium-feeling space.
What does Dock look like in action?
If you’re on the sales side, you can aggregate:
On the customer success and onboarding side, you can share:
- Deliverables and files
- Project timelines
- Meeting notes
- Onboarding documentation
Dock mentally simplifies working with you as a client, making clients more likely to feel happy and renew.