How to Build Client Relationships One by One

There is a fine line between engaging in a transaction and forging a partnership, says Greg Richter, who heads the in-house and solutions practice group at Major, Lindsey & Africa. Here are his insights into forging lasting ties with clients. 

July 28, 2017 – Building a relationship with a new client starts with a conversation. That sounds obvious and simple enough. Yet that conversation is a significant event. Maybe it is the beginning of a single transactional assignment. Or maybe it is the start of a rewarding partnership that will go on for years.

In either case, said Greg Richter, global head of the in-house and solutions practice group at Major, Lindsey & Africa, a recruiter should enter into such discussions thoughtfully and with a grasp of what one seeks to learn in the process.

The recruiter no doubt already knows his or her industry. And anyone who specializes in any given function surely knows that area inside and out. What the consultant is lacking, however, is a thorough understanding of the would-be client sitting in the opposite chair. “When you begin that conversation at the 30,000 foot level, begin it with the intention of actually getting to know your client,” said Mr. Richter in a recent tete-a-tete with Hunt Scanlon Media. “Listen, truly listen, to what is going on in their world. Ask open-ended questions that will lead to you understanding where they are, the journey they are on and what their ideal state looks like.”

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“Be mighty curious. When you listen for their pain points and for the challenges that are vexing them, you open a door to a deeper conversation about strategy and are put in a position to prescribe the right solutions. This is the first step toward trust, which is the cornerstone of any long-term relationship.”

Be Empathetic

This is active listening, Mr. Richter explained. It demands a high level of emotional intelligence, which allows the listener to be deeply empathetic and develop a true understanding of what the client is experiencing in terms of challenges and pains. “If your client feels that you are interested in more than the transaction and that you want to truly understand and help them get to where they want to go, then you are going to set a different tone — that of a partnership, where you are acting as a strategic advisor and working in the trenches with your client to facilitate change,” said Mr. Richter. “You want any client to walk away feeling like the time they spent with you was extremely valuable and that you were able to help them think through challenges better than they could have without you.”

Prior to joining Major, Lindsey & Africa, Mr. Richter was a director of business operations for Aerotek’s New York offices. Under his leadership, Aerotek established a top-performing team and brand presence across multiple business lines in the historically under-performing market. Mr. Richter was responsible for all aspects of sales, recruiting, strategic planning, hiring, training and P&L management while directing more than 75 employees.

His contributions include opening Aerotek business lines and establishing the Melville, Long Island and Jersey City, New Jersey, offices. He was also responsible for Aerotek’s professional development in the Northeast region; his sales training and management programs supported the development of more than 300 staffing consultants.

Keep Your Promises

In building a lasting partnership, Mr. Richter said, the search assignment itself is critical. Quality is of the essence, in both the services a recruiter provides and the types of candidates that are presented. “That quality is what will back up and serve as the proof point to all the talking you have done until now,” said Mr. Richter.

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This kind of thinking, he said, informs how Major, Lindsey & Africa, approaches its work. “To make sure we are living up to our promises, we do a lot of follow up, asking questions throughout the search process and following up afterward to make sure the client, and now hired candidate, had a memorable experience,” Mr. Richter said.

“Ultimately, we want to become part of the client’s team, or at least a valued ally; we want to be kept around long after the one search closes and provide added value to the organization. Our goal is to truly impact the client’s business and create a successful outcome for the department and the organization on a much deeper level.”

It’s important to provide a quality experience and present what is essentially a toolkit of concepts for clients to consider and services to explore that will foster their growth and success, “We want to help them think through how they can improve performance and enhance their culture through innovation, technology, tools and even processes,” Mr. Richter said.

Dig Deeper

Delving deeper into the possibilities is a big part of that. For Major, Lindsey & Africa, retained legal search is the “crown jewel of our business,” said Mr. Richter. The firm has been engaged in its work for 35 years, and along the way its people have gained a deep knowledge and understanding of legal and compliance. As a result, they have a wealth of insights to offer clients.

“We pride ourselves on being able to guide legal and compliance departments on how to structure their teams, how to enter into new jurisdictions around the world, how to react and respond to regulatory matters, how to look at their talent and assess them, how to build a pipeline for the future and how to look at technology and process to improve their effectiveness and efficiency,” said Mr. Richter. “We have a lot of different tools available to help our clients build best-in-class legal functions, so we present our clients with these value-added services as opportunities for their growth and success.”

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“Our perfect scenario looks like this: We place a general counsel, and within 30 days, they are ready to share their vision for the department and its culture. That’s when we present our “accessories” — additional services to enhance and supplement the successful search. With these additional tools, we can help assess existing talent, provide executive coaching, facilitate team building, evaluate and assist with departmental structure, and collaborate on diversity and inclusion initiatives.”

The firm can also provide guidance on the “harder” side of law department management: evaluating and recommending technology, tools, processes, outsourcing strategies and alternative talent models. “We set out to show our clients the different ways you can approach both age-old and newly emerging challenges related to talent management,” said Mr. Richter.

Respect the Brand

Going beyond the transaction, however, does not mean trying to be all things to all people. An executive recruitment firm must be true to its brand and paint a complete picture for the client of what their partnership will look like, said Mr. Richter. Major, Lindsey & Africa, he points out, has a specific focus, and it remains conscious of its brand with every relationship it cultivates.

“These relationships are why we are in business,” said Mr. Richter. “We want to create a lasting impact and truly make a difference. Our people enjoy providing added value and being thought partners. We believe that it is part of our job to help build that yellow brick road — not only for our clients but also for the industry.”

“Legal and compliance play key roles in every organization, and we’re really future-proofing that function in the work we do with our clients. We take our role very seriously, and take great pride in that. We would rather have fewer clients with whom we are working in a total talent solution partnership than with more who are using us for bits and pieces.”

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Will Schatz, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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