A client—let’s call him Thomas—asked me to re-purpose an old marketing piece for a niche audience he was targeting—and then create a spiffy PDF his new readers could download.
It was a quick exercise. He already had a clear brand voice and message we’d built for him and his firm, so editing was a breeze. Thomas approved the first draft, and I handed it over to my partner-in-crime to re-imagine the visual layout.
She knows both the client’s brand AND how I like to push visual design when it makes sense. The first—and final—draft bowled me over. She took my words and made them visually stunning and perfectly in-tune with his audience (and him).
Thomas was thrilled and every one of us walked away feeling the magic.
Of course not every project goes like that—nor should it. Because if your role as a consultant is pushing the envelope you aren’t going to get it right the first time every time. In fact, it’s the process of trying and failing—experimenting—that gets you to the ultimate solution when you’re solving big hairy problems.
But there are ways to get in synch with your clients that can make all the difference in building your relationship so it’s strong enough to handle the inevitable bumps that arise.
I like to think of them as trust-building essentials: transparency, integrity and alignment.
Transparency is the thing we so want ourselves as consultants. Knowing what’s going on with our client and his/her situation helps us do our best work and deliver the end result they hired us for. We’re not spending time stumbling around trying to figure out the agenda—they’re telling us what it is.
Of course, their perceptions may change as our work progresses, so we still must test and probe. But we’re doing it openly, sharing and learning together.
A retainer-based consultant I know always explains to his new clients that it isn’t until the sixth month of working together that he actually turns a profit. The first months he invests much more time than he charges to truly dig down and learn everything he needs to know to be effective quickly. Clients are fascinated with this insight into his business model and in turn he gets to talk about how he’s looking for a mutually satisfying long-term relationship. Win-win.
Integrity is the stock-in-trade of most consultants and advisors—we want to make it clear that we can be trusted with all sorts of confidential information of both the personal and corporate variety. But we can’t just talk about it. We have to demonstrate it.
Integrity is being crystal clear on which results you believe are achievable and which are pipe dreams. Integrity is saying no when it’s the right thing to do even if it costs you revenue (and the client). Integrity is speaking up when silence would be collusion. You know the right thing to do 99.9% of the time.
Alignment is a third anchor to client trust. For example, when we talk brand, alignment of your stories, actions and visuals is one of the subtle factors that influence how you and your firm are perceived by outsiders.
When it comes to client relationships, alignment is making sure that literally everything you do ties back to your core promise. The leadership consultant who listens deeply to the individual experiences of everyone she encounters on assignment (and in her life), making each feel heard and valued. The minimalist architect whose office is an ode to his craft. The financial planner who asks new clients about their money story—and then weaves it into all of their future interactions.
Creating alignment on all fronts isn’t always easy, but when you get there it feels right. It’s the glue that holds your brand + your business together. So you can focus on doing your best work for your sweet-spot clients and buyers.
And isn’t that what it’s all about?
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