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The winning formula for successful client relationships

The winning formula for successful client relationships
I have been fortunate enough to work with some great managers and mentors throughout my career. One common theme is their consistent messaging around building long term successful client relationships.

Despite all the changes in technology, the growth of programmatic and other trends in our industry, the ability to gain a client’s trust is as important as ever.

There are, of course, many wise mantras that are thrown around office meeting rooms on this subject. For example, “people buy people”, “ always add value”, “do something surprising”, “build rapport” and the universally known, “under promise and over deliver”. All of these are very true and if you stick with them I am sure you will see some success. But in my career the best advice I have ever received came from a university lecture. I took a course at Kingston University and was introduced to an equation courtesy of a management consultancy author called David Maister (2002):

T = (C + R + I) / S

Sounds simple, right? Let me explain. 

Trust equals credibility plus reliability plus intimacy divided by self-orientation.

So let’s look at each of these in a bit more detail. 

Trust is the key to building your client relationship (and any other relationship from family and friends to the boardroom).  If your client doesn’t buy into you and what you can deliver, then there is no relationship.

So the first factor is credibility. If your client doesn’t believe you then they won’t trust you. So if you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, never ever bulls***. If you are found out you instantly lose any standing you have with your client. If in doubt, be honest, tell your client you don’t know the answer but that you will get back to them within the hour. Get back to the office, find out what they want and call them with an informed answer. Too many times I have heard colleagues bragging about how they “blagged it” - they may get lucky a few times but ultimately they will be found out.

Reliability. Simply doing something that you said you were going to do. I am sure we can all think of countless examples of being over promised and then let down. It is so important to meet or beat your client’s expectations. For example make sure you finish every meeting with a recap of the key actions and immediate next steps. Agree on timings and then ensure you meet them.

Intimacy could be substituted with sensitivity. It is the ability to handle difficult information in an appropriate way. If your client shares a confidential piece of information then make sure you do the right thing. If you get a juicy piece of gossip and are told it is off the record then that is how it should remain. If you are the one that blabbed then it is a sure fire way to ruin your new friend’s trust in you and your resulting relationship will never be the same. Countless times a client has shared with me news of an agency win or an employee’s resignation.  When they say it is between us, don’t go blabbing it to the rest of your colleagues. 

So do your best to be as reliable, credible and sensitive as you can and conversely ensure you minimise your self-orientation. In other words, if your client thinks your main purpose for working together is motivated by personal gain then they will soon see through you. It makes for a very short-lived relationship. As a Sales Director I clearly have a remit to drive revenue into my business. Bonuses however should never come into it. My motivation will always be about campaign success, solving business challenges and helping my clients. If they ever thought my work was driven by my ability to hit my Q4 goal, then I suspect we would not be working together for very long.

Whether you are a management consultant, agency planner or media sales graduate, consider David’s equation. Ultimately, everything comes back to simple maths (or math if you work for Yahoo!).

Dan Durling is Sales Director at Yahoo.

Last updated 25/11/2016

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