People fist bumping

Relationships are built on admiration, respect, and trust, and need to be tended to in order to stay strong. Sometimes we need advice on how to build and nurture those connections — this is true in the professional world as well as in our personal lives. Only instead of getting guidance from Dear Abby, we have “Ask the 2” — an advice column from two of our senior account directors, Melissa “Mindful M&M” McCarroll and Patrick “Perceptive Pat” Baker. Here are some recent questions our resident relationship gurus have received, and their thoughts on each.

I’ve been working with a new client for about a year now. I think we have a good relationship, but how do I know for sure? What signs should I look for? How do I keep it going? Should I send flowers? ~ Anxious in Albuquerque

Dear Anxious,

First, take a breath. Now answer this question: Are you able to have honest conversations with each other? A strong connection requires trust that flows both ways. They have to know that you’re constantly educating yourself on marketing strategies, industry trends, and competitive news — and that you’re always offering insights and guidance that is in their best interest. You have to know that they have competing priorities and a number of internal stakeholders that can sometimes drive a shift in direction. If you both recognize these things in each other and are able to talk about all topics respectfully, openly, and honestly — even when it’s tough — then congratulations. You have a good relationship. Maintain that trust in and respect for each other and you’ll be just fine. Also … let’s hold off on sending any flowers for now, okay?

Calmly yours, Perceptive Pat

Oh boy, I’m in a tough spot right now. A project just went off the rails and I’m worried about losing the trust of my client. What should I do? Just ignore the issues and move on? ~ Nervous in Nantucket

Dear Nervous,

First, remember: We’re human, and perfection is unlikely! What’s most important is how you react in moments like this. When something starts to go sideways, swift, honest, and transparent communication with your clients will go a long way in ensuring the hard-earned trust you’ve established doesn’t get ruined. A good rule of thumb? Come to the conversation prepared with the facts. Work to share some key points with them: Here’s the problem/situation; here’s what we know about how/why it happened; here’s what we’re going to do to remedy it; and finally, here’s what we will do to prevent it from happening again. A confident and organized response is helpful for a couple of reasons, but primarily because it reassures your client that you have a plan in place to right-set the issue and make sure it doesn’t happen again. What more could they want? Perfection is overrated — responding well in moments of pressure is what deepens connections.

With warm regards, M&M

I just started a new job and I want my clients to connect with me right away. What’s the one trick to building a relationship as quickly as possible? ~ Impatient in Iowa City

Dear Impatient,

Bribe them with pizza! I’m just kidding (mostly). Forging a true connection with clients is like building a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It takes time. There are no shortcuts that will get you from start to finish immediately, but there are some things you can do to make sure you start off on the right foot. Remember, you start a puzzle by building the edges before tackling the middle. It’s the same with people. You can’t dive straight into deep, meaningful conversations without building the foundation first. Get to know what drives them, what their goals are, what they respond to, and what they don’t. Take the time to see the full picture of that person. With each meaningful conversation you have, you’ll be one piece closer to completing the puzzle.

Respectfully, Perceptive Pat

I’m a bit perplexed. I treat all of my clients the same. But I have a stronger connection with some than I do with others. What am I doing wrong? ~ Confused in Cleveland

Dear Confused,

Relationship management is a tricky thing to do well. Here’s something to keep in mind when working to build and maintain strong partnerships. Instead of “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” try “Treat others the way they want to be treated.” This slight shift in your mindset can help you remember to put yourself in their shoes. When you’re focused on picking up their communication and style preferences and responding accordingly, you’ll suddenly be speaking their language. Understanding that what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else shows that you are invested in meeting them where they are. This is tremendously valuable in driving meaningful connections.

Cordially, M&M

Find out more about building powerful and lasting client relationships.