Earning and building client trust is the number one priority for any agency. However, it doesn’t just happen overnight. It’s a process that takes time and thoughtful action on the consultant’s part.
Here are three signs that a client is initially apprehensive about your intentions, and the steps you can take to turn their opinion around.
Obstacle #1: The team won’t share work.
Consultants often find themselves in a slightly strange predicament. An enthusiastic executive may have hired the agency, but the day-to-day contact didn’t necessarily ask for or want the help.
If they were not part of the hiring decision, internal employees sometimes fear that consultants arrive to replace them; falsely believing their job is on the line. These kinds of misunderstandings create an uncomfortable and counter-productive situation where consultants are eager to help, but in-house team members keep a tight grip on the to-do list.
It’s safe to say that consultants usually love the job they have and aren’t on a mission to steal anyone else’s. Once hired, we all operate as one team, working toward the same goals. This challenge is your opportunity to prove you’re a team player with their best interests in mind.
Take these steps:
The second you start delivering work that helps the team meet the bottom line, even the most skeptical of employees will soften. Pay close attention to existing team dynamics and unmet needs. You can usually find clues everywhere from conference room meetings to water cooler conversations.
For example, you may pick up on a complaint that the department needs more creative elements for an upcoming campaign, but they’re out of budget or time. Find the best point of contact in the room and follow up offline. Explain a bit about your background in video production or graphic design, and perhaps show an example or two. Use this time to offer a quick solution: you can do the work under the existing scope and can be delivered quickly. Once finished, find an internal ally who can advocate for the job well done.
Work faster and be responsive.
It’s fairly common for task completion to take a long time in-house. Missed due dates and sluggish task completion is often due to strenuous approval processes or simply overworked employees. Consultants have a reputation for working around the clock for a reason. As long as it’s approved in the budget, work late nights and weekends to get the job done well and turned in before it’s due.
Going through a slow period without much urgency? Ensure that you’re responding to every email, phone call, text or instant message with a quick turnaround time. Responsiveness ultimately translates to reliability. It will take time, but the team will come to see your contributions as a valuable asset, leaning heavily on your services in the future.
Obstacle #2: They claim you don’t know their business as well as they do.
Guess what? They’re most likely right. With the exception that sometimes consultants are brought in as industry subject matter experts, more often than not the client really does know the ins and outs of the business better than the consultant.
However, that doesn’t mean you don’t have a significant role to play on the team. Instead of waltzing in like you own the place (we’ve all met the type of person who does this. Don’t be that person), take time to listen. From there, communicate how your diverse portfolio of experience will bring a competitive edge to the table. This communication often takes the form of showing, not telling, so put in the work that will make you legitimate in their eyes.
Take these steps:
Send informative articles.
Over the course of my career, I’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies in the energy, automotive and retail sectors. Clients almost always grew tired of other agencies only comparing their work to the competition. Our team brought a breath of fresh air by sharing case studies from different industries and brought forth innovative ideas for ways they could apply lessons learned to their own work.
Your clients are busy and may not have the time or patience to listen to your war stories, so instead find articles that may apply to their current business goals, draw parallels and send along as an informative FYI. Word of caution: use this technique sparingly, maybe once a month, and gauge the response. The last thing you want is to become a nuisance, so if they seem at all annoyed, reevaluate the frequency of your communication.
To earn trust, there is always an element of risk. However, human beings typically avoid risk at all costs. To help your client get on board, pitch small projects. After each “small win,” your client will likely feel more comfortable accepting incrementally higher levels of risk when you suggest doing so.
But, say you don’t win. Say you fail. Failure is still an opportunity to show them how to fail fast, as well as demonstrate you can recognize when an idea doesn’t pan out, and you need to go back to the drawing board. Both are excellent ways to demonstrate your sincerity and ability to approach a challenge from many angles until you find the one that works.
Do good work.
Above all else, the fastest way to earn trust is to work hard and wow your audience. Practice what you preach by consistently delivering value-add results that the client team will find useful. Do this regularly, and you have a good chance of becoming indispensable.
Obstacle #3: They don’t know you or like you and refuse to try.
Every relationship has to start somewhere. Even if you’re facing an uphill battle, the battle can be won. Start by making a genuine effort to get to know members of the team.
Take these steps:
Gauge what’s appropriate and if there’s time, make appointments to individually get to know the team members in an offline setting. Your agency may have a budget allocated to take team members out for coffee or a meal. Offer to treat them and come prepared with questions to sincerely get to know them on a personal and professional level. The focus of the meeting should be on them and answer any of their questions. Spend far more time expressing interest in them, rather than talking about yourself.
Remember the internal advocate I mentioned earlier? A one-on-one meeting is a great way to start that relationship.
Conquer a challenging project together
Some of the best relationships I’ve ever built have been born from a challenging project or circumstance. If you walk through fire with someone and make it out alive on the other end, a bond is formed that no amount of lattes could ever create. Be scrappy, effective and become someone who the team can count on. They may still hold a grudge against you, but the next time real work needs to get done, they’ll know who to turn to.
Okay so… spill. Tell us about a time where your client seemed apprehensive about your intentions. What did you do to win their trust? Did it work, or are you still trying? Let us know in the comments!