Want Better Relationships With Your Clients? Swap Stories Instead Of Stats

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You never forget your first flop.

Mine was a project for a regional bank. I was running a campaign to get young people to sign up for a bank account with a fun promo -- you’d play online games and earn points to redeem for fun prizes. Our agency loved it. The client loved it. But the campaign bombed.

We had problems right from the start. Workback schedules were off, people were gaming the system for illicit points. It was a disaster. But years later, I find myself still working on new campaigns with that same client. In fact, I’ve even been to one of the staff member’s weddings. (My performance on the dance floor is a story for another time.)

Even though the execution was riddled with bumps, the way we worked towards a solution together, with no one assigning blame or resentment, created a serious bond of trust and respect. You might call it trial by fire -- I call it relationship building.

In fact, looking back, many of my closest client relationships have been strengthened because the program or campaign didn’t go according to plan. Yes, signing a new client is great. But keeping one who knows you, trusts you and likes you through thick and thin is even better.

Plus, retaining clients saves money and time -- so, if you care at all about your bottom line, here’s how to get to work cultivating a genuine bond.

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Open up your business model.

For some odd reason, everyone’s scared to talk about the fact that businesses exist to make money. I find that leads to the perception of (or worry about) someone getting taken advantage of. My easy fix? Just be straight about what you’re doing, especially since 91% of consumers list communication and honesty as one of their top brand values.

At my company, we don’t make money selling our software or analytics -- we give those away for free. When someone buys a story through our platform, however, we receive a percentage of that purchase as a transaction fee. I’ll tell any client how much the company makes and how the company operates. As a result, no one has to worry that there’s anything I’m not telling them.

Get radically transparent.

Once upon a time, client-agency relationships were all about who controlled access. Access to data, to technology, to preferred rates, to creativity. There was power in knowing more than your client. They needed you because you had access to things that they simply didn’t.

But now, tools have become democratized. There’s no magic ad manager that can only be used by agencies, and data is everywhere. But while an agency may not control any special access, you can still be a facilitator of information, sharing experience and expertise to decode the numbers.

When we can all see the same information, it means we’re all on the same page. There’s no advanced look, there’s no wrapping bad news as a pretty gift -- just cold, hard results, warts and all. Directness and honesty are two of the biggest builders of trust in a business. Why fake stats to make you look good when just being frank can get you even further?

Come bearing (edible) gifts.

Breaking bread together has a long history of fostering a sense of community between people. In other words, feeding people makes them more likely to sit down and listen to what you say. I think we know this outside of business as well, as we celebrate and eat together on big occasions, birthdays, first dates and more.

At Pressboard, we understand that breaking bread is about getting together and bonding, so we like to apply the concept beyond lunch meetings. We do snack hours with clients where we pop by with pretzels and beer or cookies and coffee and just shoot the breeze -- no agenda, no meeting topic. We’re a storytelling company, after all, and we know the value of connecting on a personal level.

Speaking of which ...

To build trust, get personal.

Humans bond around stories. When you tell someone an emotional story, their brain releases oxytocin, the same bonding hormone that your brain releases during intimate moments from childbirth to sex. But, too often in business relationships, we skip the anecdotes and personal storytelling and let jargon and PowerPoint presentations do the talking.

I was once invited to speak to a cookie company about content marketing, but when I got on stage, I decided to ditch my presentation and get personal instead. I shared a story from my childhood about how my health-nut family -- I’m talking yoga in the 80s -- had a special box of maple cookies that we all coveted. Instead of going on about marketing stats, I shared a real story about how I had interacted with their brand and what it meant to my family. It created a totally different dynamic. People were coming up to me afterward, starting conversations like they knew me. I sowed the seeds of trust just by sharing a memory.

Small companies and startups have an advantage over the big guys. Without a lot of policies or procedures in place, you can establish a personal touch more easily and organically. Invite clients to a casual get-together with the staff or a backyard barbecue off the clock. Swap stories instead of stats.

But don’t get comfortable.

Even once you’ve taken a client from an acquaintance into best friend forever (BFF) territory, you can’t forget that winning their business is an ongoing process. While the pressure of the pitch may be gone once you’ve wooed that dream client into a project, don’t rest on your laurels. Instead, get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Your job is to stay impressive, no matter how strong the trust is between you and the client. Think of it like a personal relationship, and try to keep that honeymoon period alive. Do the work, put in the effort and prove that you’re worth trusting, and you’ll build a relationship that might just last a lifetime.

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