Welcome to our series, Turning Clients into Creative Partners. Previous posts include Understanding Client Motivations, Managing Client Expectations During Project Intake, Managing Client Expectations During Creative Execution, and Managing Client Expectations During Review and Approval.
Relationship building is made up of several things. It’s an ongoing process that never take a day off. In this final installment of our Turning Clients into Creative Partners series well review some tactics you can put into place today to build more collaborative relationships with your clients.
A frequent frustration I hear is that creatives feel clients see them as simply ticket takers. Your strength is actually being able to be a contributor from strategy all the way through to deliverables. If you want to be able to shape creative strategy instead of just executing on the marketing team’s ideas, you’ll need to demonstrate that your team has a strategic contribution to offer.
Here are the ABCs to that:
A: Stop only asking “what color do you like?” and “Do you like this font?” Ask your clients about their business goals – not only in front of a specific project assignment but regularly: “What are you team’s sales goals this quarter?” “What over-supply of inventory do you have that we need to move?” “What competitive threats or innovations can we address?” Yes, you are designers but be strategic contributors you’ll need to be business partners too.
B: Be interesting by being interested. Follow-up and ask for metrics. Did the work your team produced help your clients meet their business goals? Ask questions like, “Did orders increase?” “How has on-site conversion improved since we implemented responsive design?” “Did you meet those quarterly sales goals?”
C: Your company is competing either on product or service. Assist your clients by collecting and sharing competitor’s communication styles and design strategies. Then talk about how you can outperform across all deliverables: print, web, video, etc.
Ultimately, alignment between teams comes from shared knowledge. So educate clients on your process. A simple way to do this is to provide them with a flowchart of your team’s creative workflow. Highlight stages of the workflow where they participate (like at the request and approval stages) and make them aware of potential ways projects can end up coming off the rails.
When it comes to education we have been encouraging lunch and learns. Bring client teams together with creatives to share best practices, including hints and tips about how to they can provide more effective project requests (i.e. creative briefs) and feedback on proofs. You should also share design techniques and trends, to find alignment with brand standards.
But perhaps the most valuable learning that comes out of these events is the opportunity for clients to discover your capabilities. Sometimes you’re relegated to redundant kind of tasks while external vendors get the glamour jobs. When you ask clients why, they say “we didn’t know you could do that.”
The learning and sharing should also be a two-way street. Your clients can share with you information about the industry, audience and competitors that can drive your design and communication strategy. Take advantage of the opportunities to get to know each other’s processes and motivations.
At Yahoo, the creative team wanted to educate their clients and invited them to lunch and learns. Since they had a chargeback model in place where brand managers and product managers make requests and accept charges to their individual P&Ls, they were able to use that to encourage participation. If clients came to a lunch and learn they got “purple bucks” which could be used to buy creative services. It was an imaginative way to get attendance and provide something of value.
We’d love to hear tactics you’ve used to improve relationships (successful and unsuccessful) so share them in the comments!