Our business relationships are the foundation of our small business success. If we don’t have positive connections with the people we work with and do business with, we have no hope of reaching our small business goals.

For years, small business owners have been told the key to success is keeping customers happy. While we want our customers to walk away feeling satisfied with the transaction and their purchasing experience, treating them like customers could actually be hurting your business. Instead, you need to treat them like clients.

While many people use the terms “client” and “customer” interchangeably, I actually see them as entirely different entities. Understanding how they differ could be the key to achieving business success.

Client vs. Customer: What is the Difference?

Running a small business isn’t about selling a product or service. Sure, you may be in business to make money and provide for your family, but your ultimate end goal, in my opinion, should be to help others. Helping your employees, those who buy your products or services (that I will call clients from here on), and helping your community should be a constant goal.  When someone decides to purchase from you, you should be excited about the opportunity to create a new relationship – not just the chance to get some cash.

This is where the client vs. customer mindset needs to come into play.

When you view someone as a customer, you’re hoping to secure a business transaction. You provide a product or service, the individual pays you for that product or service, and you both go on your way. A customer relationship is strictly about the exchange of goods.

When someone is a client there is a relationship. When a client purchases a product or service from you, it is a byproduct of a strong relationship. Your client purchases from you because they trust you, they believe in you, and they know that you are capable of helping them solve a problem.

I treat clients in a fiduciary manner.  In the law, a fiduciary is the highest standard of care toward another.  It means that your interests are first, second and only toward your client, and that your interests will NEVER be placed above that of your client.  A fiduciary must look past self-interest and concern himself only with the interests of the client.

This means, by way of short example, that you will recommend products or services that are less expensive, or even those offered by competitors if what you have does not meet the client’s needs.

Creating and maintaining client relationships over customer relationships can bring you higher levels of success with your small business.

How to Transform Customer Relationships into Client Relationships

If you’ve just realized you’ve been searching for a sale rather than building strong relationships, don’t panic. You can still turn those connections around to create new long-term connections.

Here are a few things you can do to transform your customer relationships into client relationships.

1. Get Your Team on Board

Your team is an extension of you. When you give your employees the support and care they need, they will be enthusiastic about working with you and helping you achieve success. If you show little interest in their needs, they’ll let your small business come crashing down.

When you focus on building strong relationships with your employees, they will feel more invested in the company. This connection to the business will flow in their connections with your clients. When your entire team builds strong relationships with clients, everyone is more likely to stick around.

2. Know Your Client’s Needs

Too many small businesses believe if they tell a person what they need, that person will eventually buy it. While a convincing sales pitch might have been enough a few decades ago, the internet makes it easier than ever for people to explore their options.

Your job as a small business owner isn’t to sell a product or service – it’s to solve a problem. For each client, address their unique problem (often you simply ask them what that is, and if they don’t know, keep asking questions) and show them you are the one to solve it. Discovering, understanding, and solving your client’s problem is the recipe for long-term success.

3. Stay Connected

A client relationship should never end after a sale has been made. While the original product or service may have solved the initial problem, you can continue to help your clients solve problems or find solutions that make their lives easier.

Stay connected with your clients, whether it is through business relationships or even marketing tools like email or social media. Continuously look for new ways to help them.

If you want your small business to be more successful, stop thinking of your buyers as customers and start viewing them as clients. When you shift your focus and start creating long-lasting relationships, you’ll be surprised at what you’re able to achieve.