For the first ten years of my career, I influenced people during the few moments they glanced at a magazine page, billboard, website or at the TV.
There was a surprisingly large number of techniques and considerations involved in capitalising on these few seconds of attention; the location or timing of the placement, the crafted copy and perfected image, the typeface, colours and sounds were all carefully selected to capture the most influence over someone when it came to the time they were faced with a purchasing decision.
While I no longer work as an advertising creative, I am still involved in developing influence and trust by way of coaching and guiding people within professional services industries to develop the kind of deep connection with a client where they trust them with a multi-billion dollar transaction or to manage their business or personal finances.
As there was in advertising, there is still a surprisingly large number of techniques utilised to support or strengthen that connection but in this article I want to share the basic behaviours that you can use to develop trust and influence with a client on an everyday basis via actionable steps and habits that you can implement, starting today.
For the purpose of this article I'm using the term 'client' as a coverall to include a prospective client, a key stakeholder in the business you currently work in, an existing client or supplier or a referrer who can introduce you to clients.
Developing the relationship you have with your client, based on the service you provide, increases the level of trust your client will place in you. And the level of trust and influence that your client has in you will directly determine the types of projects you get to work on with them, as well as encouraging them to recommend you to others. And when you’re then successful in those projects, it feeds back in to further developing the relationship and further increasing the level of trust a client has in you.
In every single project or engagement that you’re given, you need to stop and identify: what are the specific things that need to happen to make this a success?
Don’t just look at the end objective or KPI’s and guesstimate what needs to be done - make sure to identify and write down each supporting goal and objective that is needed to support the project success. These will be internal (ie a change of employee behaviour), commercial (ie a revenue, capital building, cost reduction or other target) or relationship based (ie what support and relationships are needed) that is needed to meet the key objective. They don’t need to be more than a sentence or two for each, and from these you can work out the actions that need to happen to bring about this success.
Listen carefully for the expectation signals your client makes and don’t lose sight of meeting those expectations in whatever you deliver - I can’t impress the importance of this enough.
Capturing and then delivering on their expressed expectations on what they need, don’t need, expect or don’t expect is key to ensuring that you deliver something that they want, and builds their trust in you by displaying that you’ve listened to them. When you’re talking to a client about something they need your help with, be careful not to let your own ambitions or thoughts on a project (eg what you want to hear) or your momentary inattention (eg what you miss hearing) interfere from you noting down the expectation signals of your clients. It might be a single sentence that occurs in the course of a whole lunch conversation but in their mind it is an expectation and they expect to be duly taken into consideration.
The second type of expectation to manage is related to what you produce and deliver.
If you agree to certain delivery milestones and to meeting with your client at certain times, make sure that you’re prepared for these meetings and meet every single one. If something occurs that changes the outcome of a project, let them know about it within a reasonable time frame and where possible, accompany this with a proposed realistic and considered solution to discuss with them and find a way forward.
4. Show your depth.
Your client will feel better knowing that you’re not the only person driving, working or possessing the skills to do something for them.
Involve your team in some of the meetings and project updates with your client. Displaying this depth of talent to your client shows them that they are receiving the input of a team, not a single person or five people all following the instruction of one.
Get out from behind the desk and go and see your client. Find ways to get to know the people in their team and their business or department and show an interest in learning about what they do and how. Conversely, it’s degrading the trust a client has in you to only appear when there is a problem to be apologised for or fixed.
No one project is successful enough to excuse being difficult to work with. If you get to the point where you have a great working relationship with your client, don’t lose this by becoming complacent and assuming the relationship will look after itself. Make sure that you, and your team, always put the ‘ease-of-work’ value before anything else that your team brings to a transaction or project.
Everybody says that it’s the work that matters, but it’s the working relationship that will lose you your client or the influence that you have.
You might get away with it once or twice but if and when the truth comes out, your credibility and internal currency is shot. Ideally you’ll aim to have a relationship where you’ll not need to fear the truth being told (albeit with some apologies), but never lie to a client.
For their work, their suggestions, their support and their patience. You might already be incredibly grateful for them, but don’t expect them to work out for themselves that you're grateful or assume that they already know. A thank you email after a meeting, a thank you when acknowledging an email, and a thank you for their feedback.
Damian Garthwaite is a PwC Alumni Network member and a board member of ICON. Now in its 30th year, ICON has more than 2000 members across the Asia Pacific region, made up of a network of B2B professionals working as marketers, sales leaders, business developers, customer engagement specialists and communicators, from sectors as diverse as accounting, legal, engineering, property and architecture, technology, management and more.