Sunday, May 1, 2011

Client Retention Strategy: Be The Leader

As I was interviewing some marketing folks at the headquarters of a national retail chain, it became clear what they really wanted from their agency. Not just super creative, insightful analysis or smart strategies. They wanted to be led through the uncertainties of a new business and marketing landscape.

Client retention at risk. As marketers and their agencies dive into digital and social media there is both excitement and fear about new ways to connect and influence customers. Many possibilities and unknowns yet no stomach for uncertainty. The social and digital worlds are shaking client relationships. 

Leaders needed. Clients want certainty but there is no clear roadmap. No proof. No worn Harvard Business Review case studies.  Competitors are doing it and executives don't know what it is. This is an emotional condition and clients need guidance on many fronts. 

To be effective, account and project managers not only need the practical knowledge about the new social strategies and technology. They need a more comprehensive leadership approach to strengthen strained client relationships, an approach focused on credibility.

The Five C’s of Credibility.  This is a leadership philosophy that simply defines leaders as those with followers who find them credible. Followers who will be influenced to take action the leaders think best. Clients today need to be (and want to be - even if they won't admit it) followers. Not in a subservient way, but as one follows their partner in a mature relationship. 

What does it take to have clients follow account and project managers? They need evidence of credibility.  Credibility that can be earned through demonstrating the following:

1.     Competence: the leader knows the strategy, tactics, methods and technology, as well as the softer skills  - teaching, facilitation and communication
2.     Conviction: the leader possesses and communicates a compelling vision for the project and the relationship
3.     Courage: the leader will make the tough calls, confront conflict, voice an unpopular but correct position
4.     Care: the leader demonstrates genuine concern for the client’s personal and professional life
5.     Composure: the leader keeps cool and collected in difficult client situations and is not afraid to demonstrate emotions appropriately

Whether it’s delivering social marketing strategy, presenting innovative designs or explaining budgets, when account and project managers demonstrate the 5C’s of Credibility, clients will follow their direction. And in doing so will help relieve uncertainty, produce needed results and build strong client relationships. 

Note: Thanks to Tony Smith and Steve Williams of the Leadership Research Institute ( for teaching the 5C’s of Credibility and sharing a wealth of experience.

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