Marketing agencies frequently talk about building stronger relationships with their clients and becoming their trusted advisors. What’s not always apparent to them, however, is that a focus on emotional intelligence is usually necessary in achieving this.
It was Winston Churchill who said, “If you mean to profit, learn to please”, and this holds important lessons for agencies. It doesn’t mean they have to be supine, down on bended knee infront of clients, but that they should acknowledge what’s required in a meeting of equals, which revolves around building trust that is so easily broken and hard to build.
But why is this important? David Maister’s renowned book, The Trusted Advisor, makes an explicit connection between the depth of business issues and the depth of personal relationships. That’s worth thinking about when people in agency life, especially at a junior level, are stuck infront of their screens in the office, missing valuable interaction with clients. This applies to more senior people too. I’m a big fan of the sales adage “there are no customers in the office.”
“If you mean to profit, learn to please.”Winston ChurchillThe key takeaway from Maister is that time needs to be invested in relationships or the agency won’t move beyond the transaction mode to the level of trusted advisor. This takes years and requires the client to buy you as an individual.
A good test of whether you have reached trusted advisor status is to ask yourself “Have I been to a client’s wedding?” or “Have they ever called me at 7am in the morning for advice beyond the day to day business?” In terms of a more robust checklist, here are some of the important, and emotionally aware, traits possessed by the trusted advisor:
Client focus. This involves not only focusing on your client as a business but also putting yourself on their side.
Problem solver. A trusted advisor doesn’t just take a brief and answer it but is aware of the wider issues and challenges assumptions.
Do the right thing. You sometimes have to listen, not talk, serve and not sell, tell the truth but don’t pull punches. This may involve having to do the right thing for the client even if there are pressures from the finance director at the agency.
Achieve respect. This is marked out by a client’s willingness to refer you to others and, when they move on, that they come back to you. And when mistakes are made, that the relationship is so positive that they’ll continue to work with you and respond positively when you go in and ask for more business with the line: “Is there anyone else we can help?”
This emphasis on help is an important one. As Maister says in his book “stop selling and start helping.” Too often agencies use client meetings to sell but, instead, go in with the mindset of “how can we help?”
Understanding different types of clients and their behavioural styles is vital and here are a few final tips on soft skills to help move towards this:
- Everybody knows the most famous quote from the film Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money”. But it’s the second most famous one, “Help me help you”, that’s relevant here. Always ask a client “How can I help you?” And, if you don’t believe you can help, don’t try to sell. In other words, act from the purest of motives.
- Questioning is an underrated skill. Early in my career I learnt that questions are the arrows in your quiver. Take inspiration from Rudyard Kipling and ask open questions: “I have kept six honest-serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When; And How and Where and Who”. Simply asking a client “why is that important to you?” is a massive door opener so keep asking questions.
- “NISE” your next client meeting. This stands for News – about your company that the client should know (they like to be associated with success); Issues – about the client’s business (this helps on the trusted advisor status); Services – the ones that could really add value; and Extra – something that shows you genuinely care. Something you read, something interesting and insightful for them because interaction with you should be the best thing that happens to them in an often long and tedious day.
- Remember the concept of “Mid job, next job, proposal”. It’s lousy asking clients for more business at the start or end of a project but works better in the middle when things are going well, moving in the right direction. That’s the time to have the conversation in terms of “Is there anyone else you know that I can ask?”
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