Whether you’re building a small, medium, or large business, developing a credible company reputation that potential clients and customers can rely on is what truly matters at the end of the day. If you are just starting in business, it’s oftentimes difficult to book and retain your first major client if they’re not familiar with your work.
Below, 20 Fast Company Executive Board members weigh in on the best ways to exceed customer expectations and create long-lasting loyalty—giving you the boost in credibility you need to win over potential clients.
1. PROVIDE RISK-FREE OPTIONS TO CREATE TRUSTWORTHINESS.
Be it B2B or B2C, the consumer mindset is to first do window shopping and then not sign up for any long-term contracts unless there is built-in trust with a risk-free engagement. In my initial conversations with potential contacts, I provide them with risk-free options for consulting and show them the value we can add without charging them anything upfront. “Trust before transaction” is our motto. – Piyush Bhatt, SharpQuest, Inc.
2. CULTIVATE AN INTERNAL CULTURE OF RESPECT AMONG YOUR TEAM.
Cultivating an internal culture of respect among your team sets the stage for mutual respect with customers. You build trust by prioritizing open communication, understanding clients’ needs, and consistently delivering solutions. This foundation of respect establishes a credible reputation, fostering ongoing business through loyalty and lasting partnerships. – Mike Field, The Raymond Corporation
3. ALWAYS US THE TERM ‘WE’ OVER ‘ME.’
I always use the term “we” when speaking with my clients. It is a term reminding both them and myself that I become part of their organization and that our successes and failures are mutual. I am not a vendor, but rather a highly productive member of the management team. This approach has led us all to new business recommendations coming from previous working relationships. – Joe Doucet, Joe Doucet x Partners
4. ESTABLISH INDUSTRY OWNERSHIP.
Create brand credibility with clients by making sure you’ve successfully established industry ownership. Prove to your clients that you’re the go-to brand for what they’re looking to accomplish by sharing examples of record-shattering wins your brand has made in its niche. Then, tailor your strategy to meet and exceed their expectations well into the future. – Misty Larkins, Relevance
5. APPLY ITERATIVE MARKETING STRATEGIES VS. ONE-OFF CAMPAIGNS.
Iterative marketing should be the goal. It’s less valuable to run one-off campaigns. It’s more useful to run “always-on” advertising and marketing efforts so you can continually have a flow of new demand turning into new customers. With “always-on” thinking, you are training algorithms to find your best customers, and you leverage your learnings to find your best customers more effectively. – Robert Brill, Brill Media
6. DEVELOP PERSONALIZED VALUE PROPOSITIONS.
Acquiring high-profile clients demands a strategic approach with personalized value propositions. Targeted marketing and bespoke offerings show a deep understanding. This tailored approach sets the stage for exceeding expectations. Implementing meticulous project management, communicating proactively, and surpassing deliverables solidify a positive impression, ensuring sustained partnerships. – Candice Georgiadis, Digital Agency, Inc.
7. ‘SURPRISE AND DELIGHT’ YOUR CUSTOMERS BY ‘OVERDELIVERING.’
“Underpromise and overdeliver” and “surprise and delight” are two marketing sayings that remain relevant. We recently relaunched our international trade program “Grow London Global” to help London companies expand. A key part of its success is being transparent about what companies can achieve while connecting them with various international innovators. – Stephen Feline, London & Partners
8. CONSISTENTLY DEMONSTRATE QUALITY AND EXCELLENCE.
We repeatedly see that “quality” is the strongest driver of loyalty in our research. If you offer a quality product or service, the credibility is inherently there and will be obvious to your clients. When marketing to book a first big client, emphasize that quality by demonstrating a commitment to consistency and excellence via differentiating metrics and highly detailed mockups in the pitch. – Bruno Guicardi, CI&T
9. GET TO KNOW YOUR CLIENTS FACE-TO-FACE.
I spend every week getting together face-to-face with people who want to pick my brain, and I, theirs. I ask, “If we were sitting together in three years and everything you desired for your business and career had gone extremely well, what would that look like?” Those conversations lead to great ideas that we can generate together—and then becoming a client comes naturally. – Kathleen Lucente, Red Fan Communications
10. SECURE REFERRALS FROM FORMER COLLEAGUES AND CLIENTS.
Leverage the trust established in your previous endeavors by securing referrals from former colleagues and clients who can vouch for your reliability. Simultaneously, try generating buzz for your new brand with press mentions. Media coverage can significantly enhance your credibility by attracting big clients and setting the foundation for lasting business relationships. – Danielle Wiley, Sway Group LLC
11. PRESENT CASE STUDIES, AWARDS, AND RATINGS.
Display case studies, awards, and ratings throughout all of your channels. Think about your points of differentiation and make your outreach as relatable as possible. For us, automated, massive outreach campaigns don’t work, so we focus on highly targeted micro campaigns. We keep our campaigns going monthly, combining inbound and outbound to increase the authenticity of how our firm comes across. – Daria Gonzalez, Wunderdogs
12. HELP CLIENTS BE THE BEST VERSION OF THEMSELVES.
Offer your client some insight into their customers they wouldn’t know without you. When we blend our first-party data with a client’s data set, we always reveal audience insights that open up new opportunities for our clients to better serve their customers. Helping clients be the best version of themselves is always the key to long-term business relationships. – Barry Fiske, Merkle
13. AVOID RELYING SOLELY ON PAST SUCCESSES.
Building a reputation takes years, but it can be destroyed in seconds. That’s why it’s crucial not to rely solely on past successes. Continuous engagement with clients, actively listening to their feedback, and taking prompt action are paramount. Clients value a partnership where their input is not only acknowledged but also acted upon swiftly, often exceeding expectations. – Krishnan Venkata, LatentView Analytics Corporation
14. ASK QUESTIONS, LISTEN TO CUSTOMERS’ PAIN POINTS, AND DEMONSTRATE EMPATHY.
Clients are coming to you because they have a problem (or problems) and are hoping you can solve them. To stand out, ask questions, listen to their pain points across their entire business, and demonstrate that you actually care about them to create meaningful and authentic partnerships. It will not only solidify you as an invaluable resource but also increase overall productivity when you understand the full picture. – Stephanie Harris, PartnerCentric
15. OFFER EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER SERVICE WHEN SOMETHING GOES WRONG.
Today’s consumer has been beaten up by a worldwide pandemic, inflation, skimp-inflation (companies charging more while delivering smaller quantities), and supply chain shortages. To build a credible reputation, you should provide high-quality products at a fair price and offer exceptional customer service when something goes wrong. Business success starts and ends with your company values. – Christina Robbins, Digitech Systems
16. DESIGN FOR NEW INDUSTRIES TO BROADEN YOUR BUSINESS REACH.
Expand your reach to new clients by designing for new industries you may have never worked with in the past. This can open the doors to broader exposure. Additionally, capture your firm’s skills and portfolio online to build trust clearly while highlighting what you can do for them. Guide potential clients through your process for transparency and authentic relationships. – Goran Paun, ArtVersion
17. CREATE A ‘CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE.’
Create a “circle of influence” by investing in strategic and joint ventures, testimonials, and referrals, or by tapping into targeted audiences (online and offline). This can further position your organization as a trusting and supportive partner. – Fatima Al-Dosari, Qatar America Institute for Culture
18. BE RESPONSIVE AND EASY TO DO BUSINESS WITH.
Clients are looking for solutions to their challenges. Your key strategy should be to make finding and connecting with you easy. Ensure you are bidding on the keywords they would use to find solutions and that you have content that speaks to your solutions on your site. Make it easy to connect with you via email, phone, and even live chat. Be responsive and easy to do business with. – Mack McKelvey, SalientMG
19. SECURE A ‘LIGHTHOUSE’ CLIENT TO PUT A SPOTLIGHT ON YOUR BRAND.
Secure a “lighthouse” client—someone influential who will put a spotlight on your brand. Then, exceed expectations, tailor your product, and pay attention to detail. Make your clients feel they are getting more than they paid for, and turn them into an evangelist who will vouch for you and attract other big clients. – Gergo Vari, Lensa
20. GIVE YOUR CLIENTS A SPECIAL GIFT.
The best way to incentivize potential clients is to help them out—maybe sending them a book or introducing them to someone who could be beneficial to them. And once you sign them, do everything you can to delight them at every turn. We send a personalized Montblanc pen to every new client, noting it’s to sign their future bestseller. You just have to find the right way to help or the right gift for them. – Anna David, Legacy Launch Pad