One Consultant’s Call for Client Clarity
The success of a consultative business relationship is often predicated on a single attribute: clear and consistent communication. Sadly, the volume of failed engagements each year validates the notion that this critical component remains elusive for many.
At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we’re fortunate to have a set of long-standing client relationships that provide a foundation for our firm. Each of these exceptional clients affords us an opportunity to do innovative work in the areas of content marketing, content distribution and sales enablement.
We also typically add two or three new clients each year who we quickly achieve a high level of intimacy with, putting us on a path for a mutually beneficial, long-term partnership.
Yet, we also churn through a handful of new client assignments. There have been situations when we came up short through lack of performance or ineffective account management. We take ownership of our misses, always seek to learn and make a commitment to improve.
In some instances though we elect to conclude an engagement at the time of contract renewal because we question whether we are set up for success. Has the client articulated achievable objectives? Do they provide clear and consistent direction? These are absolutely critical in a fast-paced environment.
It’s the clichés and buzzwords that permeate banter in a myriad of organizations that often leave consultants bewildered about what it is the client actually seeks to accomplish. This vague corporate speak has existed for decades, however the rapid rise of social media with its focus on community and conversations, and its portfolio of quirky-named Web 2.0 tools has made things worse.
For instance, this past year I emerged from multiple new business meetings clueless about what the prospective client had attempted to communicate. Yes, they used words in the English language. That’s where my recognition ended though.
Don’t believe me? Consider these gems uttered by respected marketers in the September 17th issue of BtoB Magazine and my attempt to discern what is being said:
“The agencies that add the most value are the ones that sit at the table with us and help us define our strategies, and then help us implement them.” He said that over the last few years, the company has reduced the number of agencies it uses to give its preferred agencies a ‘line-of-sight’ into the company’s strategies.”
Translation: We use a fewer number of consultants so we can tell them what we are trying to achieve.
“They give us trade-offs,” she said. “For example, they might say, ‘Here is alternative one and what it would mean. Here is alternative two and what it would mean.’ When they give us alternatives, we can make decisions as a client. They give us layers of feedback and layers of decisions, and that is what makes a great agency for us.”
Translation: We like options.
“First and foremost, having a real working knowledge of us as a company and the products we bring to market,” he said are his top criteria in agency relationships. “They have to understand the customer intersection and interactions to efficiently market to our customers.”
Translation: Our consultants need to understand our company, our market and the needs of our customers.
If you’re a marketer, I encourage you to drop the vagueness from your language when you are directing an agency on a task.
Keep it real. Communicate in plain English. Be consistent. I suspect you’ll be thrilled with the outcomes.
And if you are a consultant, I plead with you to appropriately interrupt a client mid-sentence if they begin to pepper their comments with jargon and gibberish. We need to be in this together.