I recently read a blog post about the importance of client trust to business development and it really resonated with me. Written by Tara Weintritt at the Wicker Park Group, I encourage you to take two minutes to go here and read it.
I thought about what Weintritt had to say in the context of my real estate and legal careers.
“We can do anything… for revenue.”
When I started working at JLL 24 years ago, one of the managing directors in the office told me that if anyone ever asked me if JLL provided “X service,” to say “Yes” and we would figure out how to provide that service later. For a long time, I thought this was a great approach. But JLL was a big (soon to be enormous) firm and we legitimately had the resources to provide most real estate services. It was usually just a matter of researching where in the company we had the expertise.
I have since changed my position on this. I think the best answer if you don’t know if your company or firm can provide X service, is to say “I don’t know. Let me find out if we can help or — if we can’t — who would be the best person outside of our organization to do so.”
This applies across industries but my experience is germane to the legal and real estate industries.
Or, we could think about the client.
I most recently worked at a small real estate firm in Birmingham. We had a tiny brokerage team and between my partner and I, we were REALLY good at office tenant rep and building purchases and sales. We were not industrial experts. I was not a retail expert. And I am not a great landlord representative because my whole career has been devoted to the tenant side of the equation.
As a result, I turned down some revenue-generating work that me and my firm probably could have used because I didn’t think I was the best person to do it. But you know what invariably happened? Turning down work (and referring clients to other brokers) invariably earned me my client’s trust and loyalty. Ultimately, this meant they sent me a bigger proportion of their office work.
I have also encouraged clients to do shorter term deals or lease a smaller square footage when I thought it was in their best business interests knowing that it meant a smaller commission for me. Not only was it the right thing to do, but it always paid off in increased client loyalty.
From the legal side, I have had real estate clients who sent draft leases to their attorneys for review. I would get the red-lined leases back and wonder if the attorney reviewing them had ever looked at a lease in their life. Inevitably, I would find out that the client’s general business attorney had done the comments themselves – even though they had no experience with commercial office leases and even though they had real estate attorneys in their firm that did – just to keep the billable hours for themselves.
The Long Game
This is (and was) short-sighted. One of those clients ended up moving all of its business to another firm because they were so frustrated with paying legal fees for useless lease reviews. If instead their general business attorney had said “I am not experienced in this work but know someone who is great at it. Would you like me to connect you or contact them directly?” my client would still be working with the firm.
The lesson: Make sure your clients have the exact right person working with them on each and every need – even it it’s not you – and over time, it will come back to you with increased client loyalty and trust. Play the long game.