Client relationships

Not unlike forming a new friendship or dating someone new, kicking off a new client relationship can have its pitfalls. Usually when you meet someone new, you are keenly aware of the first impression you are making. If you are like me, you pay close attention to the reaction you are getting, as well as the communication patterns between you and others, in order to evaluate whether a good relationship will form.

Did I say something silly?
How did he/she interpret my recommendation?
Was I approachable, but not too friendly?

In academic circles, this attempt to get to know the other person is called Uncertainty Reduction Theory. According to this communication theory, when two people do not know each other, they feel uncertain about what to expect from the relationship and are therefore driven to reduce the uncertainty by using predictable information-gathering techniques.

On top of the traditional anxiety produced by meeting a new person or team, client/agency relationships also include even greater business concerns that can influence the relationship.

Does this person respect me?
Do I know enough about their business to speak eloquently?
What is his/her background?

Whether meeting someone new for the first time or working to build a new agency/client relationship, we’ve discovered a few best practices for nurturing both the business and the human connections.

###Be a good listener
New relationships are exciting because there is so much to learn. Not only are you meeting new people, but you might be researching a new industry, geographical or vertical market. While it’s a natural tendency to try to apply previous experience to the new situation, be careful. Don’t assume you understand the new client’s market challenges or their business. Listen to their story, listen to what they think they need, analyze the full situation, then apply what you know to help solve their problems.

###Discover what you have in common
In many agency/client relationships, the agency team is working with people on the client side who have been in their shoes. They may have worked with agencies in the past, or worked at one themselves. These clients have experience and wisdom that can complement your work, so be sure to ask them about their work history. Look for ways to commiserate about challenges you’ve both faced in the past. Consider how his/her skills fit into what you are doing and leverage them to the fullest.

###Set expectations
It’s easy to want to impress someone new the moment you meet them. Perhaps you brag a little about your accomplishments or hint at your ability to get work finished with unreasonable deadlines. While we in the agency world know that going above and beyond is very important, it’s also important to establish clear expectations about how the relationship will be structured. Who does the client call with a question? What if there is an issue outside traditional business hours? How and when can they expect to receive deliverables? Setting expectations and being proactive with that conversation will relieve a lot of stress later in the relationship.

Typically in the agency/client world, both parties are heavily invested in the business relationship and looking forward to working together. But even in the best circumstances, it’s important to pay attention to how the relationship begins and work to establish good communication patterns at the beginning so the project can be considered a success for both the agency and the client.

How do you set up an agency/client relationship for success? Let us know on Twitter via @IntrinzicSays.