During my years in Marketing at Visa, I had the pleasure of working with a group of account executives who were amazingly effective at providing great client service. I've kept in touch with several of them throughout the years, and I recently asked one former colleague (and current friend) how she managed accounts when her clients were older and more experienced than her. She shared with me a revealing story about her early days on the Visa account, a story that hit surprisingly close to home.
Within her first week, she was informed by her boss that the exacting Visa contact wanted a Director on the account, and didn't want to deal with a mere Senior AE, which was in fact her title. As I listened to the story, I realized that that client in question was me (in consort with my supervisor). Perhaps this fact had been politely "forgotten" by my friend; in any event, as she pointed out the difficulties of getting off on the wrong foot with her client, I recalled how and why the project went terribly awry. My friend had walked into a battleground where trust and respect were nowhere to be found. How had we let things get to that state?
Why the Respect Isn't There
There are three major reasons why respect often does not develop within a business relationship:
1) The element of trust in a professional colleague's commitment
and follow-through has not been established or given the
necessary time and space to flourish.
2) The client is not familiar with the account executive or agency
work, and has not yet developed confidence in their
3) Due to poorly developed professional arrangements, both
parties feel inhibited and are unable to share any and all
information that is germane to the project and ongoing
When respect for a person or business has not yet developed, a pivotal lack of trust is usually to blame. When trust is broken, one or more of these three reasons usually can be pinpointed as the cause.
Building Trust, Then Respect
Fortunately, repairing an initial break in trust ultimately can enhance your business relationship. Developing your own capacity for trust, first and foremost, is crucial in developing respect for others. This happened at Visa with my account-exec friend; both partiesagency and clientcommitted to their trust in one another, leading to a successful business relationship.
So, what do you do when your client doesn't trust you (or come to you first) to do a job?
First, manage your client's expectations (under-promise, over-deliver) so that you start building their trust in your capabilities.
Second, develop a symbiotic relationship with your client by asking questions and sharing information that will benefit you both.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, work with your senior management to ensure that they are aware of all relevant issues, then collaborate on developing solutions with the client.
When I asked my friend how she dealt with her situation, she stated that she used the above principles, especially in working with her senior management. The trust that was damaged between the client and agency was repaired over time, and the respect for her grew tenfold.
What did the client learn? That respect starts with taking a leap of faith in trusting again. The Senior AE that we didn't want on our account soon emerged as a superstar because she followed the above principles. We ended up winning not only mutual trust and respect on that project but also the Bronze Reggie, proving once again that trust and respect so often add up to multileveled success.
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