How to Improve Client Relationships Just by Listening

We are in a technical business employing a lot of technical people who deliver services. Usually, it is a very small number who contribute directly to bringing in new business. How much business would your firm have if every single employee had direct involvement in landing new and interesting projects?

You probably just thought, “Way too much– I would never get home!” Or, “That’s impossible because technical people don’t like selling.”

I hear these perspectives all the time and it reminds me of an event early in my engineering career.

Selling Services was the Farthest Thing From My Mind

I was with a 50 person A/E firm managed by a business educated CEO. He was not an engineer, so he knew he needed us engineers to sell. He knew clients did not want business people who knew nothing about infrastructure talking about projects with them. He was determined to pursue client relationships using technical staff.

The CEO’s approach was to bring in an outside instructor to lead a hands-on workshop. Just about everyone in the company participated in workshop including me. Lots of technical people attended who, like me, just wanted to work on cool projects without a focus on selling.

We learned about the power of conversation. We were shown how to recognize our fears about business conversations and learned to have confidence in our own abilities. We also learned about a process (engineers love process) to follow to win our clients’ respect and file0001376876131confidence.

This wasn’t selling. It was about how to be popular with clients with the goal to improve client relationships. Never ever having won a popularity contest, this seemed like a time for me to try.

I immediately took my new skill to one of my clients. At age 28 I also had the chance to meet with prospective clients about their RFPs. Improving client relationships wasn’t so bad.

At first, it was awkward. It wasn’t quite the same as it was in the workshop. But, I stuck to it.

I began to see that prospective clients would return my follow up calls after a first meeting. And, my active clients seemed to enjoy talking with me, even about their personal life. I enjoyed it.

A year later I had the process down pat. And, having experienced it with many personalities, I had adapted the process out of necessity. As a manager I then taught my direct reports which lead to requests to teach other groups and offices.

After 35 years in the A/E/Environmental business, I learned that just about everyone can enjoy their job more. Cementing great client relationships is a key, even for a technical career.  If the result is that the client wants to keep giving us more interesting and enjoyable business, is that selling?

The secret is– it doesn’t feel like selling. Technical staff love it, marketing staff are giddy, and accountants can finally relax. Not to mention, shareholders are tickled to see their stock value rocket.

My oldest, tried and true workshop has been completely redesigned and renamed to Listening Builds Relationships. It was rolled out for a client to rave reviews. This one workshop has had more impact than any single sales or client management class I have ever seen.

Re-design means the 3-1/2 hour workshop applies the latest participative learning methods for a fast-paced program. The skill is retained, applied, and it benefits every employee of the firm. It is why I was made a shareholder-twice.

Share this with others in your organization and your friends with other organizations. She/he will thank you. Email me at for more information.

P.S. If your firm has under 100 Massachusetts located employees, the State will pay for half the program cost.