How to build strong client relationships

By Si Muddell, Tuesday March 30, 2021

As Dale Carnegie wrote:

“Success with people depends on a sympathetic grasp of the other person’s viewpoint.”

This is our approach to building strong relationships. 

It’s not our job not to walk a mile in our clients’ shoes, it’s to run a marathon in them. We have to live and breathe their business so we can understand what they need from us. 

Which means we retain clients in four ways:

  1. By understanding their business and customers as well as they do, 
  2. by being ‘always on’,
  3. by telling them ‘No’ when they need to hear it,
  4. and by doing results-driven work

Know them as well as they do

Our job is about empathy. We have to understand our clients’ marketplace, competitors, weaknesses, and growth potential better than they do. Same goes for their customers. If we don’t know their motivations, pain points and influences, our work won’t, well, work. No matter how beautiful it looks.

This takes time, research, constant communication. But it’s the only way we can improve their business. It also shows we’re taking them seriously – that we care about growing their business and spending their money wisely. 

The advantage we have is that of the outsider. As one of our account directors, Ellie, explains: “Clients are so close to their business they sometimes fail to see different perspectives. They miss opportunities or forget who their audiences are. We get them to see things with fresh eyes.”

Be available

“We’re always talking to our clients,” says Becky, our Client Services Lead. “On top of our weekly call, we chat every day to raise issues and to try and solve them then and there. Building trust and keeping clients? Half the battle is being there, as if we’re a member of their team.”

Regularly speaking with clients means we quickly learn how they like things done, too. 

Brad, another of our account directors, says: “It can be as simple as knowing how a client likes to present information back to their business and doing this our end first – like a client who always wants to use a certain template or start a presentation with campaign stats. These little things build up. They’re part of what makes us indispensable.”

Understand that the most important word a client can hear is ‘No’.

A client that can’t be challenged isn’t one worth having. Our clients trust us, so we can tell them ‘No’ and they understand it’s for their benefit. It’s not because we can’t do something or that we’re scared of our creative work being compromised. 

And it’s definitely not because we’re turning a blind eye to a problem. If a client says ‘No’, that means there might be an issue. It’s on us to explore that and, if necessary, resolve it. We’re not perfect; we make mistakes. And it’s only by listening and being honest with our clients that we can all get the best results.

In fact, being unwaveringly honest gives us the confidence to tell clients when something feels wrong. Good thing is, we have the know-how to find the answers that make things right.

It’s not easy to tell the person who’s effectively paying your salary that they’re making a mistake. But our clients know us, they respect us – and so they know it’s coming from the right place. 

Get results

It’s great if you get on with clients. It gives us a warm feeling inside when they tick the ‘I’m happy’ box in our weekly client satisfaction surveys. But the best way to retain a client?

Do great work that gets results. That’s how you make brands work beautifully.

What that work is varies, of course. It could be formulating a go-to-market strategy, developing a website, revamping a brand from start to finish. 

But whatever it is, make it better than they ever thought it could be and your client will love you for it. And if they don’t, well, it’s always worth remembering that…

Some clients aren’t worth keeping

A good client pays you the same care and respect you give them. A good client challenges you just as you challenge them. A good client can tell you ‘No’ and not piss you off, just as you can do the same to them.

If your client doesn’t respect your work and doesn’t acknowledge your opinion, then it might be time to make one of the most difficult – yet ultimately rewarding – decisions of all: to cut ties with a company that pays you money.

Because while you have to be sympathetic to your clients, they need to give you the same courtesy. That’s how the best work gets done, and that’s what we’re all here to do.