My father used to tell me: “be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them on the way down.”
Like the game Chutes and Ladders, we don’t know where our careers will take us. Having a network of people who will vouch for you in good and bad times is important.
A major part of networking is building and nurturing client relationships. I’ve been fortunate enough to be surrounded by many client relations experts over the years, and picked up these tips:
- Be patient – creating a relationship doesn’t happen overnight: It’s great to be eager, but remember that you must invest time. Building a solid relationship with a client isn’t unlike dating. Rushing the process can come off as a rookie mistake or make you look insincere.
- There’s a difference between schmoozing and relationship building: It’s apparent to everyone when you’re trying too hard. The best way to build a relationship is to be who you are. If you’re naturally funny, stick with that. If you’re more of a soft-spoken sage, then own it. Forcing the relationship or trying to be something you’re not will quickly backfire.
- Remember the little things: Take time at the beginning of calls or meetings to learn what’s new in their lives, remember their kids’ names and find common ground to bond. Doing so will create a deeper, more personal bond beyond the run-of-the-mill client-vendor relationship.
- Step into their world: Demonstrating you truly know what’s going on in their world will give clients more confidence in you. This means immersing yourself in the issues of the day, talking to the sales teams, reading the media they read, and asking questions!
- Get to know who matters to them: Understand how you can help your client shine in front of their boss. Helping them look smart and prepared will do wonders for their career and, in turn, yours. Also, get to know your client’s extended support teams, such as assistants. Never underestimate the power of a network! Assistants talk and will sing your praises if you go above and beyond for them.
- Email doesn’t cut it: Email is efficient and convenient, but you’re easily lost in clients’ crowded inboxes. Pick up a phone, get on Skype, or suggest a monthly in-person meeting. So much of PR is about speed – to respond, to generate results – but, generating opportunities for Facetime is what creates a bond. Establishing a close, trusted relationship on top of great work is what results in having clients for 10+ years.
- Don’t shy away from the hard conversations: Candor is key. Don’t be afraid to let clients know if a campaign isn’t working and you need to turn to Plan B or if you’re projecting to blow through the budget by the middle of the month. It demonstrates that you have their best interest at heart and they’ll appreciate this.
- Keep things lighthearted: Clients are people! They want to see your personality shine through and have real conversations – not a rehearsed rundown of what’s going on. I even had one client who would insist on exchanging funny GIFs before we got down to talking business.
Some agencies have “client experience” managers, but everyone in the PR business – from the bottom to the top – has an obligation to provide excellent service to their clients. These are just a few ideas to noodle on as you work to improve your client service.
And, these tips don’t only apply to clients – relationship building in the workplace is also important. Our PR world is small and it’s common for our peers to become bosses, a direct report to become a partner, and a supervisor to become a client. I’d encourage you to think of ways to apply these tips inside the workplace as well.