For those of us in the digital space, our current and future outlook depends on how well we can evolve our offering to meet our clients’ changing needs. These needs are becoming simultaneously more specific (e.g. the focus on data and attribution) and more all-encompassing (e.g. giving this data context and congruence across channels and disciplines).
At the macro level, this requires us to move away from merely acting as an ‘agency’ or ‘service provider’ (and being seen as such), and instead proving ourselves to be a strategic partner to our clients – an extension of their overall marketing teams, supporting their internal functions in whatever way we can.
While the ‘hard skills’ and technical knowledge are mandatory for success, many ‘softer’ skills are equally if not more important – and the most important of these is the ability to build, nurture and maintain relationships.
Relationships underpin everything we do, from pitch to brief, from problem solving to reporting and analysis. Here are some pointers that have served me well, and that may help you too.
The ability to really listen will enable you to break through the surface and establish your client’s real needs. Asking valuable questions can be an opportunity to grow your knowledge of the client while refining (or demonstrating) your own skills. However, we so often forget to listen to the answers.
Don’t second-guess or talk over your client, or assume you know what they are asking – instead, ask questions and try to hear and comprehend their answers. When a client says the objective of a campaign is “top-level awareness”, what does that really mean? Do they want sheer volume of impressions, or are they in fact trying to feed into a specific audience or acquisition goal somewhere further down the line?
The key to understanding what your client is saying is to repeat, check, and check again. Things change very quickly and it’s all too easy to assume they’ll stay the same.
Speaking to all areas of the business also helps to anticipate change, and will allow you to pick up on any misunderstanding or misalignment before it becomes an issue. Informing yourself from multiple sources allows for the pieces of the puzzle to come together and puts you firmly across the wider marketing team and its goals.
While we must work to understand our client’s business as a whole, we also need to understand the representative we work directly with. What drives them? You’d be surprised – it could be anything from winning an award to just being able to leave on time every day. Understanding this will lead to a closer and more cohesive working relationship.
Anticipating change is crucial to both future-proofing your relationship and pre-emptively avoiding crisis (or being able to react fast if something unexpected occurs). As Steve Jobs said:
“Get closer than ever to your customers, so close that you tell them what they need before they realise it themselves”
While this quote is clearly referring to selling products to a global market, there’s a lot of value to this way of thinking. Ensuring you stay across market trends in both the digital space and the brand/advertiser’s industry regionally and globally puts you far ahead of the game. It also shows you care, and that you are an expert and trusted partner.
Keeping an eye on industry competitors is also key as this is what most of our clients will be doing on a daily basis. There are multiple tools in market, some of which are free, that can show market fluctuations and which will allow you to anticipate a need for action, or that will at least give context to any unforeseen fluctuations.
It can be very easy to just agree with our clients as our job is to meet their needs. However, just like any good relationship, it needs to be built on honesty. This is why it’s OK – and in some cases necessary – to push back, disagree, and say no to your client if you detect a mistake or misalignment in their thinking. Worded correctly, this kind of communication can show you are truly committed, and above all, it shows deep integrity.
As experts in our field, our clients rely heavily upon us to inform, educate and advise them. So often we’ll take a brief, execute it and deliver results without communicating what has happened in between. This could be fine in some cases, however informing our clients goes beyond just sharing rollout plans and results. We should also share our thought processes and reasoning behind our decisions; putting this information into writing is also an invaluable way of vetting our logic and ironing out any areas that come up short.
By explaining how we arrive at certain conclusions, our clients can learn and upskill from us, which in turn allows for better communication – it lets them challenge us, which makes us better at our jobs. See this as an opportunity to push yourself to do your best work and get the most out of your role and help towards fulfilling your own professional ambitions.
Don’t forget the consumer
While I recommend you put yourself in your client’s shoes, we also can’t forget the consumer. It can be hard to lose sight of this when seeing the client as being your end customer. The best way of pleasing your client is by pleasing their customers; the results will speak for themselves.
Most importantly of all, have fun! Find the joy in your role. You and your client share a passion for this. The more enjoyment and enthusiasm you show for what you do, the more you’ll inspire this feeling in your client, the more you’ll get out of the relationship, and the more you’ll become integral to their team and greater business.