Extracts from a LinkedIn Discussion posted in the ‘DBA’ Group | January 2012

Your views on how designers build ‘valued’ relationships with their existing and/or prospective clients.

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Offer attractive retainers.

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Research & build a body of knowledge & future trend predictions within a sector, (that can also hold Intellectual Property) and interpret & apply that knowledge & trends to businesses within the sector. Use that to open up the door to client businesses you wish to work for and seek to elevate your business to ‘partner’ status not merely a supplier selling their wares.

Consider different ways of doing business that do not rely purely on fees for services.

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Understand the client. Understand the sector. Understand the issues. Be able to solve them. Become an expert in their field. Read what they read. Be aware of market trends and key considerations. Open discussion that shows you have a genuine interest in the business, their competitors and the future.

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Make their job easier by building a design business case with each project. Help them with a measured ROI.

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A less obvious way is to share your business objectives with your client. Don’t just talk agency and creative solutions but let your client know what part they play in your business and what your goals are. Your client(s) will often feel valued because you have shared this information with them and they can have an input, which can actually help you. Also, don’t overlook the opportunity to show your client what you are doing for other clients. I’ve found many clients very receptive (and impressed) with work done outside their sector/industry.

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A regular dialogue with clients and an agency’s network generally is so important.

Measurement is tangible in any design. You just need a datum point where nothing changes but the design, whether it is a logo a brand a seat or a piece of packaging. This article helps to put it into perspective. http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/oct2009/id2009105_225354.htm

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In my opinion the way to create value with customers has several issues:

1. Doing a good job, obviously.
2. Making the Customer see the good work. Many companies hire advertising and design and don’t value the work and creativity, the take it for granted. A lot of businessmen believe that this work makes anyone. Many sales people have much contempt for advertising professionals and design, creativity. The reason is that they do not understand. And they cannot do. Unless you make them see that this is important, you should know and be creatives and generates significant results. You have to explain the work. Explain the importance of different aspects.
3. Involved in the client’s business beyond the work he has been asked strictly. The customer sees the interest in your business or agency part of the study. Propose ideas, business ideas, discuss topics related to your business that you have read or learned that would be helpful. Customer knowledge that can serve beyond the work of one.
4. Having a good relationship with the customer. Hear it. And if possible, sometimes give you a taste.
5. Sometimes, it’s good to contradict them and make him see that you are the expert and that what you are doing is going to benefit more.

These ideas worked for me.

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Building relationship which many claim as an attribute, in general seems to be restricted to the project in hand and then seeking the next ‘project’ to continue their idea of the relationship. That is not building a long term relationship.

Relationships need time investment and commitment beyond taking the client out for lunch and ringing them sporadically to see if they have any more projects for you. And ‘knowledge is power’ – so long as you know how to interpret & apply the knowledge that is.

Applying pro-active thoughts and ideas’s (under-pinned by knowledge not assumption) is also valuable.

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Not just in this discussion thread but in others I’m reading on design Groups, there is a theme and more consistent voice emerging. Thankfully, this is highlighting that many design agencies need to review their behaviours, their ideas and their expectations around client retention, development and prospecting for new business.

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I think the most important in the relationship with the client is involved not only in the specific job but in the client’s business. Familiarity with your thinking, your market and your business. In this way one is able to contribute much more than what you are asking, able, to new ideas, suggest, discuss issues and knowledge of the market where the customer is developed and is anticipating future events. It is really helping the customer’s business to work better. And in that sense, one will be more valued. It will go from the studio or agency, to be a “partner” much more than virtual. Besides gaining a lot more experience and knowledge.

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In short, much of the business relationships are based on the “this guy I like” or “I do not like.” Unfortunately it is one of the most influential factors, but the greatest in all business relationships.

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Many of the problems arise from clients thinking that the conclusion is more important than the journey… many client individuals struggle with the idea of them versus the idea of an objective collaboration… and there are designers who are the same! Context, content and objectivity (and integrity) is fundamentally important… being able to look outside ourselves.

Designers have to be prepared to argue the toss and coherently – there aren’t many that do and it can be a lonely road if you are one of them! The problem is that most clients think that they have to drive the solution, when really their role is to define a clear need and provide all the background information and legwork that’s required to make the journey as easy as possible.

Like any relationship, you’re likely to click (or not) with your client the first time you enter the door, it’s as simple as that… then it’s important to say what you truthfully believe is correct… and then to exercise every creative sinew to change your clients mind if it’s required… in my view!

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I think that the first element to create a valued relationship with our clients is listen to them carefully and ask and listen and ask… If we understand their needs, their priorities and even their misconceptions about things, the possibility to create a strong link with them is higher. Of course then the next important thing is how to use that information to give to the client an off the shelf solution or a creative one.

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If you are clear about your big vision and values and share that with clients, and help them to find theirs and a better way to communicate with their own clients, I think is a good starting point.

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Always try to give the impression that your client is at the front of the queue, even if that’s not strictly the case. In meetings and discussions, use ‘we’ and ‘us’ to mean both client and designer as one team. When this becomes instinctive, it really works. Get heads round the primary objective in any project – all else should flow from that.

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Just sometimes express a few words and gestures of kindness that speaks of the person. Sometimes little things say a lot.

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Thanks to those who contributed.

Simon

2012 Survey of the DBA Experts Register

FAO Designers…

As an accredited advisor on the DBA Experts Register (March 2011 – May 2012), I’m conducting a very short survey (just 6 questions), and would appreciate a moment of your time.

Whether you’re a DBA member or non-member, your participation will help to shed some important light on how designers / agencies view the DBA Experts Register.

If you have any questions about the survey then please don’t hesitate to give me a call on 07957 627052.

Please insert your email address (preferable so I can acknowledge your participation) where the survey form requests your ‘Name’.

Thanks for your time and input.

Simon

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