Sunday, July 31, 2011

Digital Client Relationships?

Are relationships with clients becoming more digital? Of course they are. Because all relationships are founded on communication, and, as we know, communication has become more digital.

Are relationships suffering as a result? You bet. Recently, a chief marketing officer I interviewed complained of a lack of direct communication with an agency regarding a project budget. Yet, agency staff said they made many efforts to connect in-person or by phone but the CMO was always unavailable. They went digital and suffered as a result. The CMO ranked the agency poorly about the budget interactions and gave new work to a competing agency. No way to improve client retention.

When building a relationship, like anything else, firms and their partners need define what that is, how it will work, what expectations are. Get answers to questions like,

“How do you prefer to communicate and how often?”
"Do you prefer to access files in PDF through email or use our website?"
“Are you open to a monthly in-person touch base meeting? I think it would really help.”
“Who else should we be directly communicating with?”

Don’t rush into the project with a new client without a half-hour conversation focused just on these matters.  Push hard for some direct contact. Conduct occasional check-ins to assess how things are going.

Client relationships are complex interactions that require a sophisticated balance of diplomacy and doggedness. They need to be purposefully designed and not left to develop unattended, especially in the digital environment.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Leadership Styles That Improve Client Relationships

In previous posts I discussed the importance of assessing client readiness to perform tasks and leading clients with the right style to achieve successful outcomes. Readiness varies by client and by task, so good account and project managers are flexible and use several styles to lead clients. As a result,  they increase client retention and improve client relationships.

Why style matters. There are hundreds of tasks clients need to perform in any project and unless you help in the right way, with the right style, you’ll under deliver and disappoint, or over deliver and waste time and budget. Client tasks include such activities as delivering a creative brief, making a design decision, managing a project, developing a budget, gathering feedback, etc.

Four leadership styles that match client readiness. For an example of how leadership styles and task readiness work together, let’s use gathering design feedback from colleagues as the task a client needs to perform. There a four scenarios below that match client readiness to the appropriate leadership style.

      The Novice Client
  • Task readiness: low will/low skill. The client has never gathered feedback from others or has done it poorly in the past.  She doesn’t really know what to gather or how to go about doing it.
  • Matching style: directing.  You meet with the client and provide them with explicit instructions and tell them, “here is how I’ve seen it done for two other projects. Try this questionnaire template and follow these steps. Why don’t I call you in a few days to see if you need more help. “
      The Eager Client
  • Task readiness: high will/low skill. The client thinks they’re proficient but they are not.  They are know-it-all types or just too confident.
  • Matching style: explaining.  You meet with the client and ask them how they think they the feedback should be gathered, offer suggestions and develop a mutual plan.  “I’ve seen this done many times and I know you have some great ideas too. Let’s meet and plan this together if you want.”
     The Tired or Bored Client
  • Task readiness: low will/high skill. The client has gathered feedback before but isn’t into it and/or they don’t like the project or their work.
  • Matching style: supporting. Here is where you need to massage the client, understand their pain, yet, get them to act for the benefit of the overall project. “I know it’s a drag to gather the feedback again. But if we don’t, you know someone is going to raise an objection and we’ll have to start all over again. I think you just need to do it. Right?” 
      The Competent Client
  • Task readiness: high will/high skill. The client has been successful gathering feedback before and knows it’s important to do for the project. 
  • Matching style: delegating. This is what we all desire, a client who knows how to accomplish a task and understands why it’s important. They just get it done. “Yep, that time again to gather the feedback. A couple days makes sense. Holler if you want some help.”
Leadership that improves client relationships. If you get in the habit of assessing client readiness and then adapting your style to match, you’ll find that client relationships improve, deliverables meet expectations and your team doing less rework.  This is the essence of leading clients, not managing them.