I’m a huge believer in kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement. It has egged me on to constantly think of how I can be better at what I do. Self-introspection is one piece of it. And client feedback is the other. On this note, there’s one thing that I have been hearing rather often from clients and prospects. And it is that consultancies and agencies in the branding business are too focused on themselves and not focused enough on their clients. This, clients say, is true at both the pitch stage as well as after the account has been won. This has been bothering me and it has led me to question:how can we shift the focus from us to our clients and in the process create shared success?
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But it’s actually quite difficult to answer and to put into practice because we’re so hard-wired to talk about ourselves, our view of the world, our incredible methodologies, our ground breaking solutions for the client’s pressing problems. Just ask clients for honest feedback and this probably won’t be far from the truth.
Based on speaking with several clients whom I highly value, and going through a lot of written material on the subject, I have chosen three actionable answers:
1. Talk less, listen more, ask smart questions.
Most of us in the communications business are gifted talkers. And we love to hear ourselves! This rule is about turning things on the head. What if you went to the next meeting and consciously held back every time you wanted to say something smart? When you listen really carefully, you get deeper into the client’s issues, ask better questions and learn to engage with the client more effectively.
It’s amazing how much clients will tell us if we only cared to listen. It’s also incredible how many hurdles you can overcome by just asking the right questions and listening better. A few weeks back we presented five different packaging design concepts to a client and at the end of it he said he just didn’t know if the conceptswereworking. We could have easily concluded that the creative was ineffective but just a few gentle probing questions later (and some purposeful listening!), we uncovered that he wasmore worried about selling it in to the CEO than actually thinking the work was poor quality.
2. Share more about them than about you.Offer fresh perspectives.
When we do have the opportunity to share our expertise and prior client experiences, it should be done in the context of the client’s current situation. It’s quite easy to get lost in the narrative of work done in the past and proudly show credentials reels and books. But what the client really cares about is why that is relevant to her. So joining the dots and helping her see her issues through the lens of how you solved a similar problem for others tends to be very effective. I now like to present case studies as a menu that clients can pick from depending on which issue they want illustrated through prior work. So if it is making their brand appeal to a younger generation, then I will pick all the relevant work we have done in their industry and outside of it, in India as well as in other markets. Clients love navigating the discussion rather than sitting through our sequencing of it.
I’m also finding that simply being armed with the most information possible about the client is a very easy win. Read every bit that you can find on them. Website, annual reports, analyst views, consumer reviews and so on and so forth. It allows you to find connective tissues much more easily.
Have their interests at heart, not yours.
Clients are ultimately people and need to be treated as such. Very often we forget that. Put the person in the client first. We once arrived at a big creative presentation in Delhi ready to wow the client, only to be horrified to find that he was in a bad mood and ratherpre-occupied because he had a big board meeting the next day. Even though we were dying to present our work, we decided to reschedule the meeting and fly back home simply because our client was not in the right frame of mind. A few days later, I received a sweet email from him saying how much he appreciated that gesture.
It’s so important to get to know what your clients’ aspirations are and what influences them. And to really care about wanting them to succeed.All this will go a long way in creating your own influence with your clients.
Lulu Raghavan is the country director at Landor Associates, India. When she's not obsessing about branding she is either cooking up a storm, checking out a new restaurant or traveling somewhere exotic. Follow her other adventures at http://lululovesbombay.