The Power of Partnership: Why We Don’t Have “Clients”
The word “client” often seems to represent a certain coldness, implying that your relationship is strictly transactional and will be dictated by terms in a contract. While terms and contracts are necessary and something everyone expects in business, there’s a lot more that comes up when seeing a project to completion—and that’s where true partnership can shine through. While clients often remain boxed in by the parameters of a project, a partnership allows you to burst through conventions to build rich, meaningful relationships that last.
First Things First, Every Partnership Is Different
At my agency, we know that every organization we work with is unique, so we start every partnership by rolling up our sleeves and learning more about the “ask.” There’s no one solution that works for every company, and listening is the key to discovering what will work.
We don’t believe in cookie-cutter solutions—instead, we dive in to identify the need behind the ask and strategize a solution that fits their specific circumstances. While having templates for your offerings can be efficient, it doesn’t take into consideration the unique requirements, models or overall dynamics of the specific partner you’re working with. I’m all for standardizing what you can for smooth operations—such as a set of new client onboarding questions or internal processes—but stray away from standardizing the game plan across your portfolio. It simply won’t work.
True Partnership Is Driven by People
Everything comes back to the people. And more specifically, knowing the people. For every brief written and deck built, there’s a wealth of untapped knowledge and context hidden in the people behind the work. That’s where the collaboration truly begins.
We put the right people in place to design a unique solution that serves our partners’ specific needs. We then put a significant emphasis on educating our partners to leverage and sustain that solution long after we’re gone. But don’t worry—if it’s true partnership, you almost always keep in touch. I can’t tell you how many times former clients have hired our agency after they have left their old jobs and companies. This is true partnership—people who work well together, looking for opportunities to work together again. It’s human by design.
Quick Wins Vs. Long-Term Success: Understanding The Difference
We see it all the time. Organizations hire agencies to help with a challenge and receive a short-term fix—only to surface several more challenges. Here are some of the ways you can battle against bandage solutions:
Look Beyond The Ask
When you’re learning more about what challenges an organization is facing, do a deep audit into all the context surrounding it. Often, you’ll discover deeper challenges to solve, additional levers to pull, and opportunities to go above and beyond.
It’s one thing to help a company implement a certain technology, but do they know how to use it? Training the people behind the process is the only way to ensure sustainable results, allowing teams to make informed decisions long after the contract is over.
Be Flexible In Your Roles To Provide Flexible Solutions
Constantly evaluate the industry and look for the unique talent you need to bridge gaps in your partnerships. Bring in sales enablement experts to work with sales teams and solutions architects to deconstruct tech stacks—anything you need to deliver a true full-service solution. Adding perspectives to the partnership is what keeps the value growing.
Put Boots On The Ground
A lot of agencies relish the opportunity to drop their deliverables off and move on. But often the most important discoveries and iterations happen once a solution goes live, so it’s important to see projects all the way through. There’s nothing more powerful than live insights, and final touches on a project often have the largest impact.
Strive to seamlessly integrate with your partner’s team. Become part of their communication platforms and standing meetings, and “show up” when it matters most. In an increasingly remote world, it’s easy to avoid this level of accessibility. But it can be integral to communication, collaboration and a successful partnership.
The Intangibles Of Commitment
There’s no blueprint for this approach because every scenario looks different. It’s the intangibles that often drive deeper commitment—when there’s something broken in the data, when user experiences need unforeseen touchpoints or when you discover a problem behind the problem. Where client servicers flee, partnership leans in. The only aspect that’s set in stone is the aligned goal, and the commitment takes whatever shape it needs to reach it.
Conclusion: Turning Clients Into Partners
In a society that’s started to steer toward more boundaries and less “working for free,” many of us have lost the art of collaboration—where discoveries, insights and long-term solutions can truly thrive. Exchanges have become quick and digital, with a lack of depth, substance and connection. By adjusting your mindset to seek connection with those you work with, you immediately turn clients into partners. You immediately see a project as a collaboration and something you are both working toward. You’re immediately on the same team.
This MODintelechy authored editorial originally appeared in Forbes Agency Council