A lot of time and concerted effort is spent acquiring clients. The first couple of meetings you spend properly educating about what SEO actually is and how effectively using social media can grow their business. Once you get past that hurdle, you may spend hours writing a convincing proposal. At long last, you’ve been awarded the work, and you can breathe a sigh of relief.
Sweet. You got the job.
Now the real work begins.
But before you jump in and work all the magic that you’ve promised the client, set yourself up for success. Set aside the time to build a client partnership.
Help them understand that this is, in fact, a partnership
Even if you’re the best SEO or marketer in the world, the people on the other side of the table don’t get this stuff like you do. And, even though they’ve agreed to invest in your services, you still need to build trust. This is especially important in the beginning stages of your relationship as it paves the way for all endeavors (which obviously can result in future increase in scope and budget). From the very start, you’ve got to help your clients understand that you’re all in this together.
And you can do this very easily in one powerful meeting.
We have found many times that the C-suite is all about what we’re doing (they hired us after all), but the internal team thinks what we’ve been hired to do is not only a bunch of crap, but it’s going to manifest a whole lot more work for them.
So, before we jump in to help a new client with their SEO, social media, and content marketing, we send over a blog post for the group to read that specifically addresses the fears and concerns we have been hearing or observing (and then of course we get to leverage this on our blog). This helps the team who’s actually going to be doing the work understand that our intention isn’t to add more work to their already over-committed plate, or to be some lame thing that is now part of their job (congratulations!). We’re here to help them improve the company they work for and we need them to be a part of it so that it can be a success.
This goes without saying, but make sure the people who attend this initial meeting aren’t just the head of marketing or sales. This means anyone who is going to, in any way, be responsible for carrying the work load. Like the dude who’s handling website changes or SEO integration (if you’re not able to do those things first-hand), anyone who is going to be helping with content generation (even if they’re just reading and passing around knowledge), anyone who is going to be participating in social media, and certainly any other agency teams that they’re currently working with.
Let them know what the next couple weeks will look like. Dispel any misconceptions. Answer questions. Explain how they can contact you (and you will actually respond). Show them that you’re here as a partner.
Taking the time to get the entire team on board will forge an alliance. This will assist you in effectively moving forward to actualize business objectives.
Figure out how to communicate
In that same initial, powerful meeting, figure out what’s the best way to communicate with this client? Do they prefer email, phone, instant message, face-to-face? This is important to know, so actually ask them. And then use their preferred method of communication (not yours). How often will you communicate? What can they expect? These are really important things to discuss before you’re knee deep in deadlines and wondering why you can’t get a response.
As you’re working ongoing with the client, one of the best ways we’ve found to keep them engaged and responsive in the partnership is through Bi-Weekly Pushes. These informal reports tend to keep the client on track, draw attention to opportunities, and ask politely for the things we need done. If the client is dropping the ball on their end of the bargain, the Bi-Weekly Pushes help remind them that we really rely on them and need them on the team.
If we’re still not getting what we need, this documentation (in a very respectful way) is then integrated into the monthly report. That way, if we ever get the ROI question, we have proof that we’re doing everything possible to achieve success, and that their 20% contribution isn’t going to equate to 100% in ROI.
Make your intentions clear. Always.
I’ve been reading a book that Wil Reynolds recommended called Speed of Trust. The book is full of great insight about being a good leader and getting results by inspiring trust in those around you. This certainly can benefit the relationships that you have with people in your personal life, but especially with your clients.
One of the key takeaways I’ve discovered in this book is how important it is to always make your intentions clear. Even the simple ones. By being deliberate (and asking for that in return), you communicate what you need and at the same time you earn confidence. This really helps to align the team and can make the partnership successful.
Declaring intention is probably something that you do quite often without even realizing. Do you ever create a task list? Ever notice how when you make that list you also happen to accomplish those tasks? It’s because you set an intention with yourself. And because you did that, you were more inclined to actually get those things done.
Same goes for communicating your intentions to your client. It’s a matter of letting them know what you’re trying to accomplish and why. Even with simple things like collecting materials or assets:
Hey, if you can get us approval for those materials by end of day Wednesday, we can take the pressure off of your support guys by driving more traffic through your social media outlets.
If they understand your intentions ahead of time, they may be more willing to do what it takes and get you what you need so that you can get shit done.
Show your appreciation
Appreciation should always be an ongoing part of building a partnership with your client. As you may have guessed, our work involves a great deal of collaboration with the client, so everyone is (or should be) working hard all the time to get results. It’s important that the people on your team are praised. Especially your client.
When we meet to discuss monthly reports, we always start with applause. What’s going right? What has the client been doing that is making a difference? Show them your appreciation in your reports (so that it’s documented) and also give them a verbal pat on the back when you’re face-to-face (people tend to like that).
Paddy and I have also discussed the importance of going out after your organized, regular meetings for some fun. Get the entire entire team (developers, affiliates, designers, SEOs, PPCs, creatives, marketers, etc) together for a drink afterward. This can help foster a deeper bond with the people you’re working with and make a big difference in the relationship ongoing. After all, if you’re not working with people who you’d like to go have a drink with, you’re probably working with the wrong clients.
Edit from Paddy: There is a running joke within Distilled that all I do to keep clients happy is get drunk with them. Whilst I initially rejected this idea, I realised that I’d been drunk with each of my retained clients at some point or another – trust me, it works!
Give it a shot
It’s really easy to get buried in all of the stuff that you need to handle for the client and forget to work on your relationship. Building successful client partnerships is a full time job and should be a consistent effort.
As you integrate partnership building into your regular routine, I’d recommend keeping these few things in mind:
- Make them a partner
You’re going to get a lot more out of the relationship if you help your client feel like they are a part of the team. That means right from the beginning you’ve got to set the stage. Share your approach. Understand theirs. Find the common ground.
- Over communicate
I like Craig Bradford’s suggestion that good communication is a mix of formal and informal. You’re going to have consistent, regularly scheduled meetings and reporting sessions that your client will look forward to or expect. It’s the stuff in between that really makes a difference.When you’ve finished a meeting, email a recap that details the action items that are going to be handled and who is going to handle them (and when). If you have a phone call, email a bulleted list of the conversation’s key takeaways (this documents the call and helps gets things done). Don’t assume that your client knows what’s going on in your head. Keep them in the loop and then ask how your communication style and frequency is working for them. Then customize based on their feedback.
- Be a real person
Even though the nature of your work is immersed in the digital space, you’re still dealing with people. You’re working with actual humans who will become part of your community. If you make the effort to communicate, earn their trust, and find common ground, you really will experience a difference in results (and hopefully greatly reduce the resistance).
As always, give it a shot and let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear what you’re doing to foster and build your client partnerships.