A decade in review: 6 lessons learned about building client relationships

Software development
A decade in review: 6 lessons learned about building client relationships

We celebrate our first decade as a custom software development company this year. 🎉

With over 150 successful projects, around 180 talents, and 30+ global clients, many of whom have become long-term partners, this was the perfect time to talk to our co-CEO, Michael Sedmak, and reflect on the “first ten” and the lessons we learned along the way about the importance of building long-term client relationships.

⚠️ Key Points: 

  • Fostering strong client relationships is a win-win. Not only does it earn their trust, but it also saves both sides time and money in the long run. 
  • A deep understanding of your client’s business goals, effective communication, and keeping it human is at the heart of relationship-building. 
  • Emphasize your commitment to crafting value aligned with your client’s individual and business objectives
  • Regularly assessing progress and exceeding expectations ensures transparency and trust. 
  • Trust is built on expertise—so maintain an open policy when sharing professional opinions that serve the project’s best interests.
  • Know your expertise, and don’t give in to FOMO. 

1. Know your client inside out 🔍

Knowing your client on a micro level allows you to understand their specific needs, preferences, and personal goals, which can help tailor your services to meet their requirements.

Understanding your client’s individual concerns and motivations can build stronger trust and rapport, leading to a more productive and positive working relationship.

Zoom to the macro level and understand how this project fits into their organization and beyond. Understanding your client on a macro level involves analyzing broader market trends, organizational and industry dynamics, and economic factors that may impact their business. By understanding the macro environment surrounding your client, you can anticipate changes and adapt your strategies to support better and serve their needs in a shifting landscape.

Also, deeply explore their culture and any important details that can give you an edge in your engagement with them. A complete picture ensures you can offer your clients more tailored and effective support, ultimately leading to better business outcomes and client satisfaction.

In team sports, there is an acronym, KYP, which stands for “Know your personnel.” Players need to be aware of their teammates and their respective positions. Knowing who’s responsible for each task and which player is best suited for each play is essential. In a high-pressure, organized mess that is a game, having this knowledge and acting on it can mean the difference between winning and losing. The same goes for business- to succeed, it’s crucial to know your client inside and out, both on a micro and macro level.

2. Don’t give in to FOMO: stay in your area of expertise

While maintaining strong client relationships is crucial, effectively managing expectations is even more vital. Each service organization eventually succumbs to the urge to meet all client requirements. Knowing when to leave the table is a skill forged through years of experience and lessons learned. 

Choosing to respectfully decline projects outside your area of expertise or not aligned with your capabilities is highly beneficial in the long run. Clients appreciate this transparency and understand that when you commit to a project, you are fully confident in your ability to deliver nothing short of excellence. This approach provides them with reassurance and peace of mind.  

But, the benefits also expand to your organization – sometimes, when a project reaches its peak, and there is little room for technology innovation, a transparent discussion with the client about the level and the need for future involvement will keep your employees motivated. 

As always, one learns best from own mistakes, and we are no exception. We’ve learned not to give in to FOMO, focus only on what we do best, and communicate it clearly within our organization and clients. Our strength lies in all enterprise application development and software consultancy aspects”, explained Michael Sedmak, our co-CEO. 

3. Be courageous: speak up 🗣️

It is essential that clients view you as a trusted and reliable expert to foster strong and long-term relationships. Maintaining a transparency policy is crucial when sharing your professional opinions and perspectives on what is best for the project. 🗣️ Proactively proposing improvements and taking managed risks to improve things makes all the difference between passionate, out-of-the-box thinkers and order-takers. 

Trying to please the client by telling them what they want to hear or withholding your true opinion to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation can be tempting.

However, these practices are not only ineffective but can also harm your reputation and your client’s business. By confidently expressing your honest opinions, clients will appreciate your commitment to excellence and respect your proactive approach. 

In 2017, we started working with Iskon, an innovative telecom provider and today part of the HT group, held by the Deutsche Telekom Group, on their digital transformation by implementing Camunda, the leading BPM platform. Ever since, we have been optimizing together, creating a customer experience industry benchmark.

Iskon CX Benchmark Notch

“Our hands-on approach was the tipping point in this relationship—no fluff, just honest, expert engineering”, highlighted Sedmak, and continues “To this day, the relationship evolved into a combination of strategic consultancy and a hands-on approach to supporting Iskon in championing CX.”

4. Start small: show value fast

When working with clients, the traditional approach may be to showcase a full range of services and capabilities right from the start. However, there is great power in starting small and gradually deepening the relationship as trust is built and value is demonstrated swiftly. 

Starting small, each project becomes an opportunity to showcase the value you bring to the table. You can demonstrate your expertise and deliver tangible results by focusing on a specific aspect of the client’s needs. 

This allows the client to see the immediate impact of your work, reinforcing their confidence in your abilities. As value is demonstrated early on, expanding the client relationship and exploring additional opportunities becomes easier.

XebiaLabs, a software company specializing in DevOps and continuous delivery for large enterprise organizations, was building a DevOps platform for application-release automation (ARO). They opted for a very advanced yet niche tech stack using Scala. In 2016., XebiaLabs needed to scale faster, but as Scala was a relatively new language, finding a team to support their growth was challenging. We started with one engineer and grew the team size to a double-digit. Our relationship continued and grew, and today, our teams are behind two core software products, and we are extending our partnership further. XebiaLab and other leading software companies later transformed into, becoming the first software company to provide end-to-end intelligent value stream management, software delivery, and application security in a unified platform.” described Sedmak.

Leading Teams for Gartner Magic Quadrant Leader and Notch

5. Exceed expectations: delivering transformative value with the right mindset

In software development services, meeting clients’ expectations and delivering on time and within budget is a common standard. Exceeding expectations is not merely a commendable goal but an essential strategy for success when working with clients. Doing so builds trust and loyalty, showcases technical and organizational excellence, generates positive word of mouth, elevates client satisfaction, and inspires continuous improvement. 

This approach benefits your clients and nurtures your professional reputation and success. Ultimately, exceeding expectations is not just a business practice but a mindset that can transform ordinary client relationships into extraordinary partnerships, leading to sustained growth and success in the long run. 

Exceeding expectations often leads to enthusiastic referrals and positive word-of-mouth endorsements. Clients who experience exceptional service are more inclined to share their positive experiences with others in their network.

Referrals from satisfied clients mainly fueled our early-stage growth and international expansion. We won our first e-commerce project for ELCA in Switzerland, worked with more and more international clients, and the projects we were working on became even more complex – from modernization of legacy applications to building complex data synchronization solutions or improving business processes by implementing Camunda BPM solutions. When your reputation for exceeding expectations precedes you, it becomes a compelling factor in attracting new clients and securing valuable partnerships”, underlined Michael Sedmak.

6. Be human: the universal value 🤝

As the world learned from the recent volatile years, being human and kind has never been more important. Especially in the service business, while working with clients from different cultural backgrounds, everyone respects one universal value: humanity

You never know the pressure a client is under when working on a project or the challenges they are facing. Mistakes will likely happen on both ends, and things will break, but how we respond is truly important. 

As mutual respect, trust, and confidence are cultivated, client relationships can evolve into true long-term partnerships, business-wise but, most importantly, from a human perspective. Although we work in a B2B environment, at the end of the day, we are working with humans, not businesses. 

Be Human Long Term Client Partnerships Notch Beeline

With COVID, for some clients, the world (and business) stopped in its tracks due to the nature of their business, requiring human resources on-site and putting additional constraints on their already low-profit margins. We showed flexibility and continued supporting their projects, worrying about getting the job done first and discussing financials second. This approach was appreciated and well respected even beyond the COVID years”, remembered Sedmak.

Becoming a trusted partner

Strong client relationships, backed by expert delivery, transform you into a trusted partner. When clients listen to your advice and trust your expertise, it creates a positive feedback loop. As you deliver quality work, the relationship grows organically. Over time, this can lead to more projects, business expansion, and even referrals to new clients

At Notch, the average client relationship lasts over three years, but several clients have been with the company for more than 8 years, some even from inception. These relationships have evolved into true long-term partnerships. Many clients have developed deep bonds with our employees based on mutual trust and respect. Together, we have evolved from solving isolated problems to a true strategic partnership, where Notch team members are actively involved in strategic product road mapping, acting as consultants or even becoming team leads. 

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