It is hard to trust someone right away. Sometimes it’s extra hard to trust someone, or the team, responsible for bringing a project vision to life with your hard-earned money. Some of the most precarious trust situations are when when working with a third-party vendor or agency. Burned once by an agency? It’s likely you’ll continue to enter into those relationships increasingly wary of being burned again.
For agencies tasked with these project visions, who have the greatest of intentions to provide solid work and cultivate a strong working relationship, how do they show clients what trust looks like? How do we build trust beyond saying “trust us”? Pointing to recommendations from past clients is a good start, but burned-before new clients have probably heard and read great reviews of their previous professional relationships-gone-sour.
What’s going to count is the experience a client has at the very start of any new project. Agencies, and in particular Producers and Project Managers, have to back up lip-service with true action. Ultimately, it will take time, patience and good work with visible output to convince new clients to trust your team. So how do we, as those well-intentioned agency teams, earn the first slice of trust in the beginning of a new project relationship?
Get the teams together and talking
It’s important to connect the agency team with the client team. Introduce the agency team not only to the project they are working on, but the people they are working with. Schedule an in-person kickoff meeting or video call (technology!). Make sure there are faces associated with names and voices associated with roles. Communication and trust between team members between sides is crucial to the health and trust of a project. If your team and the client teams are working with faceless, voiceless, or worse, nameless, shadows, no one is going to trust anyone to get anything done, make decisions, or care. If your company structure doesn’t foster or facilitate an open line of communication between agency and client teams throughout the project, make sure there are at least a couple communication touch-points early on in the project. It’s more likely someone will trust “Patrick” if they’ve heard his voice or seen his smile even only once. In the long run, that face and voice needs to be supported by reliable quality of work, but this communication helps to start relationships in early days.
Show how well you work
Be willing to show the client team what your agency team is made of and how they are going to produce something great for them through internal collaboration and open dialogue. It is important your team has great things to say about each other and have a working experience that is based on mutual trust. That’s going to show. You know the joke “animals can smell fear”? Clients can smell team cohesion. How you build that is up to you and your team (I can’t solve all your problems in one blog post). Once you figure that out, it’s going to show through in communication and work and will prove essential to building a stronger client relationship.
Be prepared for obstacles
All projects hit a stumbling point but how the team works and communicates through those will either cripple or bolster the trust you have worked hard start to build. When things go wrong expressing empathy can go a long way. You know what it’s like when a project goes awry. Put yourself in the shoes of those across the table and tell them you understand. And then fix it.
Own your role as the expert
You can also build trust by being a proactive and dependable partner and owning your role as an expert. Express your professional opinion. You and your team have been hired for your expertise. It’s ok to push back on an idea if you don’t think it’s the best one to suit the goals of the project. It’s also ok if it’s not the final decision or accepted by the client. By thoughtfully contributing to the conversation with the client and the project, you’re showing that you are actively looking out for the best solution possible. Don’t just be a “yes” person; listen carefully and give feedback. This goes for all team members. People will trust you more for it. As well, enthusiastically support the good ideas and solutions provided by the client. Explain why they are good ideas and fold them into the process.
The trust you earn is the trust you work to keep
People won’t hand over trust just because you ask nicely or because you explain that other people trust you or have trusted you in the past. Their time, money and often the security of their job are being placed in your foreign hands to ferry across the divide from idea to realized and profitable project. It’s not just business, it’s personal risk.
The deeper you get into a project the less these suggestions will matter and the more your work will speak for itself. At the beginning of a project, when you’re just getting to know the person on the other end of the phone or email, think about what you’d like to hear. What would make you think, “I trust these people”?