RELATIONSHIPS ARE EVERYTHING OR “THE PLAN FROM HELL”
After just deplaning from a long day with another client, I stared at the draft my colleagues had started, but knew instantly it wasn’t anywhere close to client worthy. We were all stretched with lots going on, but this was a significant opportunity to expand on our recent success with this client. It should have been prioritized, but wasn’t.
When I took the plan out of my bag the next morning, I knew there was only one thing to do — lock myself in my office and crank it out. It was now 7 a.m. and the client presentation was at 1 p.m. This was not an ideal planning process for sure.
At 11:30 a.m., I emerged from my office to share my draft with a colleague. Her response? — “I don’t get it.” Ouch! There’s nothing like those four tiny words to send chills down your spine. “Whad’ya mean you don’t get it! Isn’t it obvious? Don’t you see how this clever little event adds tons of dimension to the overall plan?”
After much shouting and table pounding, I resigned myself to this: If you have to explain it, it doesn’t work.
Back to the drawing board.
I continued to tweak the document until the presentation. One o’clock came, we presented. In a follow up call from the client, there were many questions and even more rambling answers about how the disparate parts of the plan worked together. When it was over, I didn’t think we’d sufficiently convinced them that our plan was smart and compelling.
In less than an hour, the client called back. They chose our plan and awarded us the business.
What led to our success? Honestly, I think it was less about the plan, and more about the relationship, trust and an afterglow from our recent success with this client. As David Maister suggests in his classic “How Clients Choose,” too many professionals get overly focused on technical matters, and lose sight of the essential nature of professional relationships. This doesn’t mean that technical skills are irrelevant – of course, they are critical. But having technical skills is only a necessary condition for success — not a sufficient one.
Above all else, what clients look for is that rare professional who has both technical skill and a sincere desire to work with both me and my problem. The key is empathy- the ability to enter another’s world and see it through their eyes.
On the agency side, the key talent is being good at getting prospects to reveal their problems, needs, wants and concerns. If they’re doing the talking and you’re doing the listening, you’re ahead. If you’re doing all the talking, you’re losing. Professionals talk too much. Ask good questions and listen.
Pete Brace is director of communications and influencer marketing for The Gatorade Company, a division of PepsiCo. Prior to joining PepsiCo, he led the food and nutrition practice areas for two of the three global public relations agencies for which he has worked: Burson-Marsteller, MS&L, and Ogilvy Public Relations.
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