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The value of honesty and connection in client relationships

Client relationships. Not always easy but vital to the success of any business.

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Think of your ideal client? How would the relationship be? Simple and easy? Low maintenance? Drama-free? When you’re juggling a million and one other things, smooth and breezy interactions seem incredibly appealing. But to build long-lasting and fruitful relationships with clients, our interactions need to be honest, and we need to create a genuine connection with them.

So how can we go from transaction to connection?

Be there in the storm and the calm

How do your clients see you? Are you the saviour who sweeps in to save the day in their time of need? Or are you the quiet confident, ready to lend an ear at any time? If you can be both, you’ll be in a good place.

It’s something David Ogilvy talks about in Confessions of an Ad Man:

“The head of an agency has so much on his plate that he is apt to see his clients only in time of crisis. This is a mistake. If you can get into the habit of seeing clients when the weather is calm, you will establish an easy relationship which may save your life when a storm blows up.”

To be able to help solve clients’ problems and challenges you need to be armed with the insight into what works for them, how they see success and what their goals are. To get an understanding of this goes beyond their top-level strategy, it’s what makes them tick on a day-to-day basis, and the more interaction you have the deeper your understanding will be.

Don’t flatter to deceive

Think your client’s product or service is flawless? Brilliant, be sure to tell them. But if it’s not, don’t flatter to deceive – there’s a strong chance it will come back to bite you.

Ogilvy has words of wisdom on this too:

“It is difficult for a doctor to tell a patient he is suffering from a serious disease, and equally difficult to tell a client his product has a serious fault. But the time comes in the life of every advertising agent when he must grasp this nettle. When I told one client that I had doubts about the consistency of his spaghetti, his reaction was to question whether I could do a good job for any product I disliked… On the whole, however, I have observed an increasing tendency on the part of clients to welcome candour.”

Tell people their offer is flawless, and they will expect immediate outstanding results. And if those results don’t materialise? It’s likely you’ll be in the firing line. Tell clients where you think their strengths and challenges lie and you can focus on amplifying the strengths and together you can work on the challenges.

For a well-functioning relationship, both parties need to feel free to speak their minds. It takes time to build trust but inviting honest feedback from clients from the off and accepting this without pride and hostility will set the tone for open communication as the relationship progresses. Sometimes the client will know their industry and market the best and sometimes you will have the expertise and ideas to change their perspective. But when you have established honesty and openness in the relationship, these discussions become constructive rather than destructive.

Build deeper relationships

Deeper, more honest and connected relationships with clients take time. But the investment is worth it. It will allow you to set realistic goals, expectations, and deliverables – and meet them. You’ll be better positioned to address bottlenecks and potential challenges. And you’ll be armed with all the information and insight you need to better report on your success. 

Every relationship is different, but have a think about your current clients – do you really know what their motivations are? Have you a firm grasp of what success looks like for them? Are you investing the right kind of time with them? Do you need more face-to-face meetings and less reporting? Could they benefit from networking in your circle?

The easy client relationship might on the surface free your time up to concentrate on other things. But you might be missing opportunities to foster a deeper and longer-lasting connection.