Why you Should Bring Theater Into Your Client Relationship Management Practice

Jeremie Bacon wrote this on February 08, 2019

Anyone who knows me knows I love musical theater. I see around a dozen shows a year and would gladly see more if time permitted. What’s not to like about the theater? Where else can you see men and women of incredible talent singing, dancing, laughing, and crying their way through moving stories showcasing every aspect of the human experience? 

Great shows can be magical, but the quality of what we experience at the theater hinges on the preparation and planning of the entire cast and crew. When cues get missed, props go missing, or mics cut out, the audience can become confused, disengaged, or disenchanted. The worst thing that can happen in the theater is to lose your audience. 

I was in London for business recently and was able to snag a ticket to see Hamilton (finally). It was mesmerizing. Hamilton, like other fantastic Broadway musicals, packs an emotional punch on many levels, but the driving rhythm and flurry of activity that propels that story forward is particularly unique. In fact, the one thing that struck me repeatedly was how the cadence of the music drove the precision of the actors in ways other shows don't. Every movement - from the flick of a wrist to the nod of a head - was deliberate and precise. On time. On cue. Intense. It was awesome.

At this point, you might be asking yourself what in the world any of this has to do with business or client relationships. Well, here you go: Great client meetings are like great theater.

Great client meetings need proper casting with an eye toward who on your team can deliver the right message in just the right way based on the particular circumstances of your working relationship with each client. 
Great client meetings merit careful preparation that takes outstanding issues and concerns into account so you can figure out how best to address them. 
Great client meetings require preparation time for teams to rehearse their lines and get the message right. 

As I was walking back to my hotel after the show, I began reflecting on the meetings I’d had with current and prospective clients that week. Specifically, I thought about the amount of preparation I had put into each get-together, many of which had, by design, been casual in nature. 

Had my team been appropriately prepared? Did we hit our cues? Had we treated meetings with existing clients with the same level of enthusiasm as those with prospects? Had we handled our meetings and client presentations with the intensity and attention to detail of opening night at the theater? If we hadn’t, why not? What was our excuse? Had we missed an opportunity to strengthen a relationship or failed to shine a light on an individual client and our service to them? 

When it comes to pitching for new business, everyone knows how important it is to put your best foot forward. What’s more, every teammate who is involved knows what’s at stake if things don’t go well. Often, considerable investment goes into staging, props, and costumes for new business presentations. Every member of the pitch team preps for the meeting by running lines and memorizing the script. Then… showtime!

But what about meetings with existing clients? How many of us take the same approach? Isn’t impressing your client and managing her expectations just as crucial on day 2,458 as it is on day number one? 

Of course it is. 

Given the costs associated with acquiring new customers, continuing to 'win' our existing ones is just as important.

 

Confession time. 

I’ve gone through periods where I’ve been great about treating client presentations like new business presentations and others where I’ve been not-so-good. I’ve even done intentional experimentation on my clients (sorry clients) in search of a happy medium. Conclusion: I don’t think there is one. 

Consistently good preparation = happier, healthier, long-lasting client relationships.

Most sales, marketing, and relationship management leaders I know have experienced ups and downs the same as me. Although almost every person I know agrees that how we prepare and present to existing clients is as important as how we interact with prospective ones, very few of us are consistently deliberate at prepping for them. 

The reasons why are usually obvious. Relationship managers nearly always lack the time and resources that make planning and prepping for client meetings easy. We’re also often so engaged in doing actual work for existing clients that we neglect the preparation part; even when we’re cognizant of the need to do it. Other times we assume we have such a congenial relationship with the client that we don’t need to bother. 

I can tell horror stories about times when my teammates and I have stuffed hastily prepped documents into a backpack while flying out the door with just enough time to get to the client meeting on schedule. In those situations, preparation for the meeting takes the form of a frenzied conversation during the walk or cab ride between offices and a cursory review of recent emails and activities between our firms. Sound familiar? 

Why do we do this to ourselves and our clients?

The stakes involved in client meetings are just as high, if not higher than new pitches. When we fail to pay attention to how and what we present at client meetings we take huge risks. 

Think of it this way: you know your competitors are calling on your clients when you’re not there, and if they’re as good at the initial pitch as you are, you’re gambling an awful lot if you’re not crushing it every time you sit down with your customer. 

Losing new business sucks. Losing existing business is SO MUCH WORSE.

 

We’d all benefit by treating our meetings with existing clients with the same level of intensity as those we have with prospective ones. It's easy to do when you take a theatrical approach! 

What I wrote about great meetings earlier deserves as reprise:

Great client meetings need proper casting with an eye toward who on your team can deliver the right message in just the right way based on the particular circumstances of your working relationship with each client. 

Great client meetings merit careful preparation that takes outstanding issues and concerns into account so you can figure out how best to address them. 

Great client meetings require preparation time for teams to rehearse their lines and get the message right. 

Great client meetings, like great theater, are by no means an accident. 

It takes many months and countless hours of hard work to prepare a Tony Award-worthy show for opening night on Broadway. Thankfully, it only takes a few minutes to a few hours of preparation to dazzle our clients.

We owe it to ourselves and our clients to ensure each member of our team understands their role, knows their lines, and is ready to take the stage and shine. When, just like the cast of Hamilton, your timing is deliberate and precise, on time, on cue, and intense, your meetings will be awesome!