Jared Belsky, CEO at 360i and author of “The Great Client Partner: How Soft Skills Are the True Currency in Client Relationships,” shares his philosophy on creating valuable client-partner relationships in extraordinary times.
There’s no getting around it — the stakes for client relationships have never been higher. It’s one thing to help our clients succeed when it’s business as usual. But when no one knows how the market will change from week to week, or even hour to hour, building client trust requires an entirely different calculus.
In my experience, being a reliable and effective client partner in uncertain times comes down to being three things: early to address the situation, empathetic to your clients’ needs, and fearless to find solutions.
Be early. Anticipate your client’s next need
When it comes to client services, you’re either early or unforgivably late. This new reality isn’t likely to be short lived, so to stay ahead of the curve, plan against a series of markers and milestones, instead of a single open-ended challenge. It’s also critical to measure action in minutes or hours, not days and weeks.
We can either wait for our clients to panic and call us, or we can pick up the phone first, point out the red flags on the horizon, and start creating a backup plan.
Getting it even half right is better than being late without a strong point of view or an action plan.
We need to be realistic and come to clients with multiple options for spending scenarios, models with reduced ROI expectations, and phasing options for ramping spends. Getting it even half right is better than being late without a strong point of view or an action plan.
Also, we all intuitively know that our clients’ target audiences are evolving and changing due to COVID-19. In the spirit of being early, we’ve been working with clients to get ahead of that by reworking audiences in terms of size, shape, and composition, based on changes to consumer spending, behavior, and tastes. That way, they can be sure they’re marketing to the right people.
Be empathetic. Remember that everyone’s situation is unique
When you’re working with humans, business is always personal. And client partnerships are never more personal than in a crisis.
Keep in mind that, while on the agency side we typically spend 90% of our time thinking about clients, on a good day they only think about us 10% of the time. And today, beyond keeping their business afloat, they might also be worried about paying their mortgage, caring for an ailing parent in another state, or fighting for their teams’ jobs.
When tensions are high and deadlines get tighter, take a second to consider someone’s “MRI” — most reasonable intentions.
We’re all humans trying to navigate an unprecedented situation. When tensions are high and deadlines get tighter, take a second to consider someone’s “MRI” — most reasonable intentions.
The little things matter, and we can all do better to practice them daily. Start and end as many weeks as you can by making five personal calls to your team and your clients. Try to lead every email with a “Good morning” or “Good afternoon,” and pause at the top of every call to simply ask, “How are you doing?” A little humanity goes a long way.
Be fearless. Embrace an experimental mindset
It’s been said that one shouldn’t let a crisis go to waste, and we’ve found it helpful to keep this in mind during our current situation.
Uncertainty gives us more freedom to embrace 80/20 thinking — the idea that 80% of the impact you create for your clients will come from 20% of your efforts. Finding that 20% requires experimenting with new technology, media platforms, or creative strategies.
It’s encouraging to see many brands embracing 80/20 thinking right now — from experiments with animation and video clips in lieu of live video shoots to simply using common sense to avoid out-of-home ads instead of waiting on a 30-day media analysis. One of our retail clients is using search data to promote products that people want right now, rather than waiting for lagging sales data to make a decision.
This is an opportunity to spend more time actively working to help our clients and less time talking about it.
In the past couple of months, we’ve spun up entirely new business models and transformed how we work with clients. We’ve learned to forego a five-page brief when a one-pager or even a simple email will do. This is an opportunity to spend more time actively working to help our clients and less time talking about it.
Most of all, it’s an opportunity to come together around the things that really matter. I’ve been inspired by so many leaders in the past month who have looked beyond themselves to focus on job preservation, job creation, and public health. When Lauren Hobart, president of Dick’s Sporting Goods and a client I’ve admired for a long time, shared a post about the challenges facing us all, the last line stuck with me: “We will win as a team, and we will win for our entire team.”
That perfectly captures why there are far more important things to rally around than just revenue. Strong companies and partnerships are built by people. There’s no secret or shortcut to helping your clients and partners during a time of crisis. It’s all about being early, empathetic, and fearless to cut through uncertainty and get things done.