Three C’s to Sustaining Long-Term Client Partnerships
September 2, 2015
By Stephanie DeViteri, Senior Vice President
In one month, I’ll be celebrating my 12th work anniversary at Tonic Life Communications! In the world of agency life, this type of longevity at one company is a rarity. Another rarity is maintaining decade-long client partnerships that have survived – and thrived – despite agency consolidations, rotating client contacts and fluctuating budgets.
How is this possible? Of course I can give the formal, business-like answers…work hard and relentlessly to deliver on what you’ve agreed upon when it comes to program results, make your clients look good, meet deadlines, come in on-budget…and so on. But maintaining multi-year client partnerships takes more than just business performance. It takes:
Chemistry. Let’s face it. We like to work with people who “get” us, who seem to genuinely care about our lives inside and outside the office, whom we don’t mind being stranded with at the airport for hours on end. Every relationship needs good chemistry to survive, and agency-client relationships are no exception. At Tonic, we find that the most satisfied clients are those who have a strong connection with their agency leads. Kelly Campbell, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, said it well in an article for Psychology Today: “similarity between people is crucial…feeling understood is essential to forming relational bonds.” Whether it’s with your spouse, friend, family member or client partner, chemistry builds effective and long-lasting relationships.
Communication. Being in the field of communications doesn’t make you a good communicator. It’s not just about what you say, but how you say it. Ask your client questions and LISTEN to the answers. Respect your client in every circumstance, especially in front of their peers and bosses. Never wear your emotions on your sleeve when you get frustrated, tired or drained by what may be a challenging client partner. You should always have their back and make sure it comes through in your words and in your non-verbal cues. And perhaps most importantly, learn when to persist and when to let go. I, along with several of my Tonic peers, subscribe to this rule of thumb: if you and your client partner aren’t in agreement on how to proceed with a project or resolution to a problem, try “pushing back” with strong, constructive counsel twice. If, after that second time, our client is still persistent, we have to assess whether it’s a cause worth fighting. Is it going to jeopardize the business or put us (or our client) in a compromising predicament if we simply “give in?” If the answer is no, then we often heed to the client’s request.
Collaboration. Collaboration can be defined as working together to achieve shared goals, and it’s amazing how many people in business settings don’t practice it. Tonic reinforces the importance of collaboration among its internal teams and with clients because without it, client partnerships will struggle. Collaborating takes patience and persistence, but when done well and often, it offers tremendous business value. With the convenience of “instant” connections through email, messaging and video conferencing, we are able to bounce ideas off of each other within minutes and align with clients on a path forward before potentially moving in the wrong direction. True collaboration means we approach clients’ goals as ours, not “theirs,” and we continually partner closely with clients to implement strategic communications in support of corporate and brand needs.