Even the most diplomatic leaders butt heads with clients sometimes. As CXO of Attack!, an experiential marketing agency, I know I’ve had my share of miscommunication (especially with CMOs) over the years. That’s why I’ve come to rely on some very specific tactics that help me align with my clients and keep the lines of communication wide open. If you deal with clients in your business, then you know it’s not about controlling the discussion or managing expectations. Good communication is about putting yourself in the client’s shoes and continuing the much larger dialogue that has taken part over the previous months or even years.
Here are three techniques I’ve found valuable: 1. Share valuable information before clients realize it themselves. Much of my advice to clients is based on being informed, and for good reason. All of us gravitate toward that one person who always seems to have the answer. If you want to be that person to your clients (and believe me, you do), then be prepared to stay one step ahead. If industry news breaks or interesting developments arise, don’t wait for the client to call you. Call them first and have an opinion, be bold, show that you are confident enough to have a point of view because you are smart enough to know what’s going on. When you pick up on a rumor or competitive intel, call them up with an idea for taking advantage of it right away. When you come across a new study on consumer behavior, share your thoughts and ask them for theirs. In short, be the person who not only challenges your clients to think but to also explore new intellectual territory. It puts you in the position of mentor and cohort — the perfect place from which to communicate. This is more than just a communication tactic. It’s how you build a reputation and ultimately become the go-to person for important business information. 2. Push back — so long as you’re coming from the right place. Pushing back can be a tricky song and dance. Don’t get stuck in a tug-of-war just because you pulled the rope and your client jerked it back a little harder. Ask yourself why you’re pushing back so hard. Are you really, really right on this one? Is the client blindly walking into a land mine and not even realizing it? If that’s the case, then yes, it’s your duty to push back. But be explicit about why you’re disputing someone’s opinion. At Attack!, I go to great lengths to explain why I disagree with a CMO. Often, the very act of exposition shows that you care enough to spend your time and resources to get to the root of an issue. It shows that you’re coming from a place of expertise and experience, not simply looking for control. I pull case studies, rope in esteemed colleagues, set up surveys and proprietary research, all for the sake of building trust and clear lines of communication. 3. Surprise your clients with updates from the field. When you call a client from a conference with an update like “Just wanted to let you know I ran into [Mr. Industry Thought Leader] and we had an amazing conversation about [super relevant topic]… you have to meet this guy. I’ve set up for you two to have coffee next week and see if there’s a possible fit,” you’re making yourself an indispensable part of his or her inner circle. Be the person that connects your clients to the people and ideas they need to know, and watch your credibility skyrocket. Connectors and networkers are magnetic, and as much as your clients love you, they love your extended network even more. Leverage that to put yourself in an indispensable position.