Moving the Client-Agency Relationship from “Us Against Them” to “We’re On the Same Team”
Sometimes client-agency relationships are great – you’re on the same page with the goals you strive to achieve; you trust one another; you form genuine relationships with those mysterious people on the other side of the conference line.
But other times it’s not so rosy. Your client may question everything you deliver and you find yourself having more combative conversations than collaborative ones.
Whose fault is this? Probably both of you. But as a project manager, it’s your job to make it better.
No matter where you fall in this relationship spectrum, we all could use a few tips on how to move the client-agency relationship from “us against them” to “we’re on the same team.”
1. Know Your Goals & Vocalize Them. Often
Are you and your client on the same page in terms of goals and KPIs? If you aren’t, you’re doomed. Each time you start a new project, be sure to revisit how this project will help your client achieve their goals. You know your client’s KPIs, but sometimes they get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of projects. Say them out loud, often, so you’re both on the same page.
2. Speak Up When You’re Straying Off Course
If you find yourself about to spend a significant amount of time on a project which won’t move your client in the right direction, be vocal about it! Your client has a lot on their plate and they hired you to look out for them in your arena of expertise. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t feel this project is moving us towards our goal of ABC. I recommend we work on XYZ instead.” But if they don’t go for it, be prepared to move forward with the project - with a positive attitude.
3. Listen to Your Client and Own What’s Yours
Remember, your client lives and breathes their brand. They are partnering with an outside agency because you are the expert in a certain arena. But your work isn’t the be-all-end-all; it’s just one (important) piece of a much larger puzzle. Listen – really listen – to what your client is saying. And take it seriously! Truly own your area of expertise, but also recognize that you will never know your client’s brand as well as them.
4. Drop the Negativity
You’re busy, but so are your clients. It’s easy to get annoyed and fall into a pattern of negative thought: “Why didn’t my client give that feedback on the 1st round of revisions?” “Why didn’t my client give me more notice on this project?” Remind yourself that your clients are busy – just as busy as you – and they’re juggling a lot of balls as well. Try and give them a little bit of slack.
5. Remind Yourself (and Your Client) that You’re on the Same Team
When you find yourself in a pattern of tense or combative conversations, remind yourself that you and your client both want the same thing: a successful outcome. Then comes the hard part - believe what you’re telling yourself. And then tell your client! Knowing your concerns are being heard is very important. Vocalize to your client that you agree with what they’re stating; repeat what they said to you; and remind them that you’re on the same page. Their goal is your goal. Then form a plan of action to bring this to life.
6. Admit When You’ve Made a Mistake
We’re all human; mistakes happen. And when that day comes, own up to it – immediately and matter-of-factly. Then outline how you’re handling the mistake, and move on. In most instances, it won’t be a big deal and that conversation will be behind you. Your client should appreciate your openness.
7. Establish Trust
One of the best ways to build trust is to make a promise and follow through. The promise doesn’t have to be large, but it needs to be kept. If a project is due at the end of the day Friday, tell your client you’re sending it to them Friday. Then send it. If it’s not ready Friday, let them know immediately that it’s delayed and that you will send it Monday. Then send it Monday. This may sound obvious, but it’s very easy to rationalize that your client won’t notice if you send something a couple days late. But soon, you’ll gain a reputation for being late and unreliable. And how are you supposed to build a better relationship when you act like that?
8. Form a Face-to-Face Bond
Email and phone conversations are great for keeping up with day-to-day tactics, but it’s hard to form a relationship of any kind when you rarely see one another face-to-face. Set up monthly or quarterly strategy sessions. Make an excuse to review a deliverable in-person. Invite your client to lunch and ask them about their kids or an upcoming vacation. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily tasks of your job, but at the end of the day, we’re all people. And having a friendly relationship is much more fun for everyone, don’t you think?
Will these tips resolve every problem? Probably not. Building a good relationship takes time and is hard work. But hopefully they’ll help you on your journey to become true partners with your clients.