The Trust Journey

In our personal lives, we are often cautious about who we choose to trust, out of fear that we’ll get hurt. In business, savvy leaders often take big risks in order to find success, but they also exercise a healthy amount of caution about who they trust as business partners and advisors.

When I came to BlissPR, winning my new clients’ trust was (rightfully) hard, and for a while I struggled, feeling that I would never get to the point where they saw me as a valued counselor. Luckily, two things happened that helped turn this around. First, I realized it was ok for this process to take some time. My clients needed to be sure that I (and by extension BlissPR) was a partner they could trust, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Simply acknowledging this relieved some pressure.

Second, I read a book called “Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down“, which was written by one of our clients, John P. Kotter.  It is a handy and powerful guide to winning support for your ideas, even in the face of heavy opposition. I learned that the key to building buy-in is not great rhetorical skills or powers of persuasion; it’s much simpler than that. By always showing respect for your audience, even the people who seem difficult or critical, and by using clear, common sense responses to their opposition, you get their attention, diffuse emotions, and can often turn resistance into support.

Reading “Buy-In” helped me stop feeling overly frustrated if a client didn’t immediately give the go-ahead on an idea, and it gave me tools to work through those conversations more skillfully. Once I slowed down and removed some of the personal emotion I had injected into client interactions, I was able to focus on more proactive efforts that showed my clients I was someone they could trust.

I learned the three key qualities that a “trusted advisor” demonstrates all the time to his or her clients:

Know their business

This is a must. If you don’t know your clients’ business inside and out, you will be viewed as a vendor, not a partner. Ask yourself: How do they make money? What are their main business objectives? What audiences are important to them for sales and marketing? If you can’t answer these questions, find out, and fast.

Empathize with them

I constantly put myself in my clients’ shoes. I think about who they answer to internally, the larger marketing strategy objectives they have to meet and which our communication programs typically support, and the stress they may be under from serving multiple stakeholders within their organizations. Apply this empathy and “thinking like a client” to the program recommendations you make. Given their marketing and PR strategy, what is a priority and what should go on the backburner? What is not a strategic fit for the program? What will really move the needle for the organization?

Anticipate – and compensate for – weaknesses

Clients are human, and like all of us, have weak and strong areas, professionally. A true partner perceives the weaknesses and finds ways to make up for them. If a client is overwhelmed and has trouble keeping track of projects and details, be the efficient organizer who does that for them – provide an update every week so that if someone in their organization wants information, they aren’t caught off guard. Seeing where balls might drop and ensuring that doesn’t happen will make you invaluable.

These are by no means the only behaviors needed to win client trust; I’m learning new ones all the time. I’m interested to hear from both the agency and the client side – what do you think makes someone a true trusted advisor?


To connect with Siobhan:

Phone: 212.840.1661
Twitter: @shiv245
LinkedIn: Siobhan Ford