One of the things I’ve really struggled with in my client relations development is being “the expert.” When you work for an outside consulting firm, as I do, you are basically the adviser to your client in all things media and publicity – you are the expert. It’s difficult, as you build rapport with your client, maybe even to the point that your team calls with them are friendly and collaborative, to assert yourself with authority, especially if you’re young. This can mean telling a client when one of their ideas sounds like a bad one – horror of horrors.
- Speak with conviction. You can be unsure about something, without sounding like it. And you can say you don’t know without sounding incompetent. The more you express your ideas with conviction, the more confidence your client has in you, even if you’re wrong.
- Be researched. It’s easier to speak with conviction if you know what you’re talking about. Be ready to address all the outcomes, all questions, all concerns with sound and knowledgeable advice.
- Rehearse. Speaking confidently with clients comes with experience and a lot of practice – and even with critique. Ask for feedback from your teams and your coworkers and really work on areas where you falter.
- Disagree with a client. Being upfront about bad and risky ideas tells the client that you’re forward thinking, not combative. This also means you’ll need to have an alternative direction or a new idea at the ready. When you’re able to be on-the-level with a client, you can get a lot more done.
- Be firm. Part of this is the whole “speaking with authority/conviction/your heart” deal, but in the long run, it’ll let the client know that you’re not wishy-washy. But this also means being ready to hash out why it’s a bad idea.
- Be flexible. Your client is paying you. At some point, they’re going to remember that too and you need to know that they’re going to make whatever decision they want to make. You need to be ready to go with it whole-heartedly and have a game-plan around it.
- Have managers/coworkers read your client emails before sending. Feedback is important in your growth here. You may think your email conveys a lot of value and expertise, but your more experienced coworkers can help you spot weak and passive language and ultimately make you a stronger communicator.
The point here is that you never want the client to have to ask “Why didn’t you tell us this was a bad idea?” if you can avoid it. What they decide after you advise them is their own deal. And they’ll know “you told them so” without you having to say it. But this isn’t about being right – it’s about putting the client first and trying your hardest not to let “wrong” things happen. That’s what makes you the real deal and the expert.