When we attract a new client, our first inclination is to jump in head first and start working. We want our clients to see us actively engaged on their project to validate their choice in selecting us. We start by telling the client all of the exciting things we have planned. We list off ideas and explain process, but we do not take the time to listen. This is a missed opportunity and one you want to avoid.

You may think that you already know what you need to do and what is expected of you from all of the conversations you had prior to being selected. The contract probably spells out what your deliverables quite clearly. You may even think you know what is best. Nonetheless, taking the time to listen to your client is critical, not only at the beginning but through your entire relationship with your client.

The problem is that your client most likely did not tell you everything in your initial discussions. Believe it or not, many clients worry that they are somehow exceptionally difficult to work with or that a vendor will not want to engage with them. While you a fretting about showcasing your skills and portfolio, not to mention pitching at the right cost, your client is worried about making her company look appealing enough to do business with. Both of you are being very selective with the information you share in the initial stages, and will likely continue to be until the relationship has been going for a while.

Your client likely did not mention the internal political dynamics that will have an affect on your success. She did not tell you about the sensitive information that may alter your strategic approach. Certainly she left out the embarrassing failures of past projects that may influence how key stakeholders evaluate your work. There are a host of other issues that are likely hiding in the background, none of which you will find out about unless you listen.

Pay attention to what is not said just as much as  to what is said. What your client considers a success for the project may be very different from what was originally discussed or even in the contract. You could deliver exactly to the contract and never get another job if you are not listening for the real criteria that often goes unspoken. As you move through the client relationship, success factors are likely to change. If you want an ongoing relationship and repeat work, you will need to stay on top of those changing factors, many of which will never be explicitly stated or even articulated. It is your job to listen to what is really desired and deliver on that just as much as on the project requirements.

If you were to pay close attention, you would probably find that you do far more talking than listening. By listening to your client discuss the project and go through their objectives and desires you will gain valuable insight.Perhaps an on-time launch is the key success factor for the project, but your client might have internal pressure to do something new and existing. If you can help with that, you will be certain to gain repeat business. You can only really find this out by listening effectively.

Your clients may not engage you on defined projects. Nevertheless, actively listening is key. I went into a Home Depot recently and was asking for a specific tool for my father’s gardening (a birthday present for him). They did not have it and so I was just looking around when another associate asked if I needed help. I told him what I was looking for and that I knew they did not have it. He listened and then asked, what will you dad do with it? I told him and ended up with something totally different that would do what my father wanted, and it was much better.

Listening will also help you build and strengthen relationships with your clients. One of my clients made an off hand comment about how she did not have enough time to stay abreast of the news in her sector. It was a comment you might not give much thought to since most of us are busy and tend to feel that way. I was listening closely though and had heard some similar comments from her earlier.

I decided to set up a Google alert and spend a few minutes picking out interesting articles that I thought she would find useful. I emailed her the links with a sentence or two about why they were important every week. Not only did it help her, but it also helped me understand the challenges her business faced. She quickly came to rely on my summary email each week and started paying me to make it a regular part of our deliverables. All because I was actively listening.

Listen to your clients and customers to find out what they want and need. You will be able to better serve them and provide for their needs if you know what their challenges are. They will not always come out say this, and they might not even know themselves, so you always have to be listening. You may also discover new ideas for products and services, receive additional contracts and referrals, or just simply have an improved relationship. Take the time to listen to your clients.

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