Account management at a digital agency like Anvil requires many skills and requires Account Managers to wear many hats. One of the most important skills any good AM has in their tool-chest is the ability to develop relationships with their clients and to learn what it is that will bring the client the most satisfaction. Providing satisfaction and delivering what the client wants on a consistent and timely basis will ultimately result in the most important tool an Account Manager can possess: Trust.
What is Trust?
Trust is the foundation of all relationships. The sun rising each morning is what all life counts on to stay alive, it’s what keeps oncoming traffic in its lane, and it’s what guarantees rain on the weekend. Trust is also why people do business together. In The Truth About Trust written by David DeSteno, DeSteno writes: “At the most basic level, the need to trust implies one fundamental fact: you’re vulnerable. The ability to satisfy your needs or obtain the outcomes you desire is not entirely under your control…” In other words, trust is simply a bet, and like all bets, it contains an element of risk.
Building a Foundation
OK, so trust is important and requires a willingness to take a risk. How then do we build trust and convince our customers the risk they took was worth it? For me, building trust with clients and in life comes down to four simple tactics outlined below:
1) Be Straightforward
The first step in building trust is to be honest. Tell things like they are no matter how painful it seems to you, your client will appreciate and respect this in the long run.
- Lies beget lies, even small lies and twisted truths are still lies. Tell the truth.
- Share honest information, even if it’s to your disadvantage. This will help establish you as less biased and more of a genuine consultant.
- Be upfront and tackle difficult situations head-on. Don’t sit on information you know your client may not like. No one wants the Band-Aid ripped off slowly, just get it over with and move on.
2) Use Sound Judgment
This crucial and oft overlooked step is to know what information to share, when to share it, when not to share it and who to share it with.
- Protect competitors’ proprietary information as if it were your own. Don’t send emails or files that reveal financial commitments or terms. If you feel you must provide information, never provide exact figures and use ranges instead.
- Stark honesty may hurt the recipient, ironically destroying trust. Be empathetic, letting customers know that you understand their concern (then punch them in the gut, lol).
- Apologize judiciously. Apologies are often forgiven but not forgotten.
“Trust is the lubrication that makes it possible for organizations to work.” – Warren Bennis
3) Work Like a Swiss Watch
Be consistent in your dialogue and behaviors. Do what you said you would do when you said you would do it. Remember that repetition results in reputation, what you do defines you.
- Show up for every scheduled client meeting – every time and early.
- Get the work done; under-promise, over-deliver.
- Do what you say you will do. Fulfill your promises. Every time.
- Don’t promise it if you can’t deliver it. A man has got to know his limitations.
4) Play Like You’re Both On The Same Team
Self-serving agendas cast doubt on one’s trustworthiness. In truth, everyone has self-serving agendas, but you need to convince your client that this is not the case.
- Avoid me and foster we. Take the focus off of what’s good for you and focus on us.
- Welcome open communication and nurture mutually beneficial relationships.
- Willingly accept constructive criticism.
- Ask about things outside of work, you should know about their extracurricular interests.
Having served time on both the service and client side of the ad industry, trusting an Account Manager comes down to one thing: accountability. A wise sales manager I had over a decade ago, Tom Keeler, once told me that accountability lies on the shoulders of the Account Manager; it’s in the job title. I have always tried to take this to heart and have found it’s often best to take all of the blame when something goes wrong and little of the credit when it goes right. Easier said than done but I think that clients appreciate the single point of responsibility and team members appreciate a sense of protection from the possible ire of a client. Both internally and externally, everyone finds value in a single source of accountability.
There’s no silver bullet for building trust but if you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll be on the right track. Please feel free to comment with what’s worked for you and any anecdotes that involve building trust with your customers or clients- we’d love to know what worked for you!