16th May 2017
When you meet an important client or customer, or when you meet someone who has high status, how do you act? Think about how you feel, how you carry yourself, how engaged you are with what they are saying. Do you make an effort to laugh when they tell a joke? Are you interested in what they have to say?
When we meet someone who is important to us, usually because our income, livelihood or future prospects depend partially on them, we generally become the best versions of ourselves: attentive, engaged, aiming to please.
When the boot is on the other foot, it is easy to slide towards the other end of the behaviour spectrum. When the balance of the relationship equation is skewed heavily in your own favour, it is easy to forgive yourself for not responding to an email or returning a call, or making time and effort to hear the honest thoughts and feelings of the person concerned.
In truth, both of these types of behaviour have serious flaws.
Your favourite people
Think of your favourite people. Those friends, family members or co-workers who you have a great relationship with. The people who you can be your authentic self with. The people who can tell you the truth, even when it hurts. Those are the relationships that yield the most fruit, and it’s as true in business as it is in our personal lives.
When I think about the clients we’ve had the most success with, the ones we’ve been working with for years, they are the ones where we’ve had a relationship based upon authenticity.
Authenticity is one of our five values.
It’s a rule we live by. Without authenticity in our relationships with our clients and one another, it’s very hard to do a good job. We insist upon it.
To illustrate this point, here’s an example of authenticity in action in a real life atom email:
“I wanted to touch base about the [specific project we are working on]. I’ve been thinking about how we’re conducting this project at the moment and felt I should be honest that I feel we’re not pushing this forward in the best way possible. I really believe that this content project could have a positive effect on our organic visibility and keyword rankings; and I’d like to make this work. [Email goes on to explain how the author like to move forward with the project].”
Being authentic at this stage is vital – identifying an issue and being clear an honest, and offering a solution, rather than waiting until further down the line. This is how authenticity can be a wonderful tool in client / agency relationships.
Picture this: if you were a client of ours, would you want to know if you were making a terrible decision? And how would you feel if you made that decision, and in a year’s time we told you: “Yeah – we thought at the time that it wasn’t a good idea.” My guess is that you’d find it quite frustrating. In scenarios where you pay an agency to give you their expertise, it is valuable to cultivate an environment where your agency partner feels like they can critique you. This means you must try not to get annoyed with the critique.
Top tip: just say thanks for the feedback, then go and mull it over. That will give you the chance to calm down and avoid reacting defensively. You can then honestly appraise the advice you’ve been given and either ask more questions or make a decision. Whatever you decide to do, remember to reward the person who gave you the advice with a ‘thank you’. Point out that you understand that it can be awkward to give feedback like that to a client and that you really appreciate them doing so. If you do that, they’re more likely to offer authentic feedback again in the future, helping to shape your thinking and improve the decisions you make.
How to craft a better relationship with your agency
Here are five steps you can take, either with a new agency or an existing one, to improve the relationship you have with them.
- Get to know them personally – who are they when they’re not at work? Family? Friends? Hobbies? Passions? Worries? Ambitions? Share your life with them too.
- Say ‘thank you!’ – It’s amazing what a simple ‘thank-you’ can do to morale at an agency. Sending a thoughtful card when they do good work, save the day, or are authentic with you in a way that took bravery will work wonders
- Actively encourage authentic communication – you need them to be honest, so ask them to be. If you don’t get anything back, don’t assume that everything is OK. Draw it out of them. Consider asking them to do something even braver, like insult you to your face! Then give them a big, beaming smile in return and say ‘well-done’. If you can get them to do that, give you honest feedback will be easier.
- Ask for timely critique – if you’re launching a new strategy or important piece of work, loop them in and ask for their opinion. Even if it isn’t really their bag, they’ll be flattered you asked and you’d be surprised with what they might come back with. They could give you a perspective that no-one else has so far
- Tell them if you need help – one of the biggest impediments to progress is waiting for the client to approve or implement work. If you’re struggling to get back to them, be honest. Tell them why it’s hard and ask if they have any ideas. They might be able to make life easier by speaking directly to another supplier/agency of yours