How to become a strategic partner
While becoming a trusted advisor won’t happen overnight, you can take steps today to start building your practice. It should consist of four components: communication, preparation, knowledge, and knowing how to disagree. Let’s take a deep dive into all four.
There are no relationships without communication; still clients often feel unheard. Show clients you understand by listening, empathizing, and responding. You can do this by:
- Asking open questions: Skip the small talk and get actionable information from client conversations by asking, “How’s the business?” “What’s a concern you have?” and “How can I help you?”
- Reiterating what they said: To ensure you’re on the same page as your client, get clarification by asking, “What I think I heard is…,” “What it sounds like is…,” and “I want to confirm I’m understanding you correctly, you said…?”
- Empathize with clients’ needs and pains: Let clients know you’re on their side by repeating back their concerns and sharing how you can help.
- Using three-second pauses: Slowing down the conversation gives your client room to speak everything that’s on their mind.
- Send a summary email: After any client interaction, send an email recapping the discussion, key decisions, and next steps.
In order to bring your best self to every client interaction you need to be prepared physically and mentally. You can do this by:
- Tidying up your space: In an era of video calls and screen sharing, having an orderly background and desktop is essential.
- Making zen time: Set aside a few minutes before meetings to calm yourself and prepare a conversation strategy.
- Running through a conversation checklist: Understand what’s on the agenda, who is in the meeting, what are their priorities, what are the opportunities and challenges, and what are your insights and recommendations.
- Processing interactions: Give yourself a few minutes after every meeting to process what was said and next steps.
To build richer client connections, you need to be knowledgeable. This goes beyond your experience and expertise, encapsulating your understanding of your clients team and industry. You can do this by:
- Possessing client knowledge: What do you know about your client? Who is their ideal customer, and what are their goals?
- Possessing assignment knowledge: Identify a project’s objectives and key deliverables, and make sure you have access to style and brand guidelines.
- Sharing your expertise: This is the value you add through your expertise, insights, and recommendations
- Being curious: Stay interested in your clients’ business, industry, and social style.
4. Handling disagreements
On the road to becoming a trusted advisor, you likely didn’t expect that learning how to disagree with your clients is another part of the process. Knowing the appropriate time to respectfully disagree and present your rationale is another great way to build trust and deepen your partnership.
As creative problem solvers, agencies can see challenges clients may not be aware of. Clients depend on their strategic partners to inform them when they’re going off course or when a more informed decision can be made.
When disagreeing with clients, it’s key to remain calm, composed, and respectful. Be sure to use empathy every step of the way. You can do this by presenting the issue naturally and without assigning blame. Rather than saying, “You’re making a bad decision,” you can say, “That isn’t the best decision that can be made.”
Furthermore, you’ll want to use “soft” over “hard” language. For example, instead of saying, “What are your problems?” say, “What is most in need of improvement?” Another helpful tactic is to go through all of the clients’ available options. Make sure they feel included in the discussion and decision making by asking, “Can you think of any other options that we should consider?”
At the end of the conversation, thank your clients for allowing you two to have an open and honest discussion. These client interactions can be difficult conversations to have, but they are also one of the greatest opportunities to deepen trust.