Why Relationships Are So Important In the Agency Game And How to Build Them

November 28, 2018

It is a well-known fact that relationships are the key to success in any business engagement. As online shopping and transactional business become more commonplace, the need for authentic human connections in sales will continue to rise. Human beings are social creatures by nature. Studies show that our nervous systems are wired for human connection. There is a direct correlation between the number of meaningful relationships we have during our lives and our well-being. Those relationships are often the foundation of support structures for us whenever we are under duress or when we are having a bad day. In business, it is no different.

Over my years in the Advertising Agency business, the most important thing to me has always been the bonds I have been able to build with my clients. It is more important than everything else to me. I truly want to see my clients succeed regardless of what they pay me for my service.  My desire has always been about building relationships that transcend the work.

Throughout my career I have been blessed to work with many smart and wonderful people. Most of them I still call friends to this day. When traveling on business I am often invited to stay in my clients’ homes instead of hotels. Nothing makes me more proud than earning the respect and trust of a client to the point where they welcome me into their homes to spend time with their families.  To me this is true success.

When I first started my own agency, my creative partners and I constantly debated which was more important – the work or the relationship? I would argue the relationship and they the work. We came to realization that in fact it is both. No relationship is ever going to overcome bad work and no work is going is ever going to get bought if they don’t like you. Great work is the price of admission, but it is the relationship that will stand the test of time.

Great relationships aren’t built overnight. They are the product of showing gratitude, real interest and focusing on what is important to your client versus what is important to you.

Over the years I’ve assembled a list of things that have helped me build strong bonds with my clients. As you read them remember that they can’t be faked. You have to want to take a genuine interest in your clients and be authentic in your connections with them.

1. Names – Dale Carnegie said it best, “There is no sweeter sound to a person’s ear than their own name.” A strong relationship will never form if you can’t get your clients’ name right. That means always spelling and pronouncing it correctly. If it is a difficult name ask your client how to pronounce it and then create a mnemonic device to make sure you always get it right. If the spelling is difficult, take the time to learn it and always get it right. There is nothing worse than misspelling a client’s name.

2. Take Time To Learn About Their Interest – I have a client who LOVES watching motorsports. From dirt tracks to Formula One racing, he literally can’t get enough of it. In fact, his love of racing lead to a multi-million dollar marketing initiative for my agency. In the beginning he invited me to go to some non-business related races. Even though I had never been a fan of the sport, I went gleefully hoping to spend time with him and experience something new.  We now go to at least 3 races a year and we have a blast doing it. Another client of mine has been a mountain climber for almost his entire life. He invited me to go to the Himalayas with him and his daughter to climb a 20,000 mountain. I went and had a life-changing experience for the better. Regardless of what happens with our business relationship, we are forever connected by our adventure and experiences.

3. Handwritten Notes – The digital world with its speed and convenience has almost made snail mail obsolete. However, nothing in cyberspace can compare with the thought and the specialness of a handwritten note. Taking time to write and mail a note shows that you care enough to say thank you or let a client know you are thinking about them. Make sure to Invest in some quality stationery. It is one of the most powerful ways to let someone know you appreciate them.

4. Don’t forget about their spouses (and kids too for that fact!) –  Families are on the front lines of any client’s support network. In most cases they are the most important things in their lives. When things don’t go as planned on an important project you are involved with you can be certain that their families are going to be the first ones to hear about it. Spouses can sometimes be the root of your demise if you aren’t careful. You don’t have to pander to them, but you should show them the respect they deserve. Make sure to remember names, anniversaries and birthdays when possible especially if you think the spouse might feel like they are in the shadow of their partner’s career and position.

5. Birthdays – Create a system to capture every clients’ birthdays and then send them a card and/or a small, thoughtful gift on their actual birthdate. In some cases it may be the only recognition they receive. They will remember and thank you for it. If you can capture their birthdate without you asking them for it even better. Make sure to observe and obey any company supplier rules for the gift.  Sometimes there are caps on the dollar amount a client can receive in gifts from vendors. You don’t want your altruistic gift to become a source of worry for your client.

6. Say Thank You… A LOT – My clients are the reason I eat and have a career I truly enjoy. I’ll never lose sight of that and I am never short on my supply of “Thank You’s”. For over 10 years I have made a practice of calling all of my clients on the day before Thanksgiving to tell how thankful I am for them and the opportunity they have given me.

7. Confidentiality – Let’s face it, the agency business is a gossipy world. You will know that you are well on your way toward building a strong bond when clients begin to share sensitive details about their business or even their personal lives. It shows that they trust you enough to confide in you. No matter how juicy the information might be, NEVER betray their trust or tell anyone about what they have given you in confidence.  It will undue all of your work and is nearly impossible to recover from.

8. ABG (Always Be Genuine) – None of this will work if you aren’t 100% genuine. People have a sixth sense to detect whether you like them or not. You can’t fake sincerity so please don’t try.

In the new economy people can buy almost anything from almost anyone. Never lose sight of the fact that when people buy they want an experience preferably from someone they like. If you approach building the relationship with joy you will be rewarded in ways far above the money you receive.