I always enjoy putting myself in the mindset of my client and their business. Getting under their skin, immersed in their world, or into their mindset as I call it, is so enlightening. As a service provider, I am quite frequently getting into the mindset of an unfamiliar business and its people to understand their ambition, motivation, challenges, and opportunities. Becoming familiar with the context of their day-to-day and the idiosyncrasies of the team is so valuable. After all, as a human being, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is the very essence of empathy.
But it doesn't always come easily. As humans, we can be quite guarded as we naturally seek to protect ourselves and those around us. For those who've never worked with a digital marketing agency or consultant before, going into the depths of business operations can appear to open up a vulnerability. Sharing the strategic direction and sales or product strategies seems to lay bare the very thinking that has often taken a great deal of investment and research to acquire.
For us as marketers, however, it's vital that we understand the direction of travel and the underlying business goals so that the marketing plan can support those ambitions. Otherwise, partnering on a marketing plan is usually a counterproductive exercise that fails to deliver the desired results and return on investment expected.
So, what tactics can I recommend to help a (potential) client open up about their business and make sure you have the full picture in order to do a great job?
1. Ask easy to answer, but strategic, questions
By asking easy to answer questions about the day-to-day operations of the business, its staff, recent news coverage or noteworthy achievement, you're creating a conversation that begins with a low-cognitive load from the client's perspective. It establishes a communication with information that is relevant, probably top of mind and easy to discuss openly. This helps to build a rapport and demonstrates you've taken the time to do your prep work.
2. Share relatable, easy to grasp examples of your previous work
This point might seem like it's ego-driven, quite the opposite. By sharing work you've undertaken previously as a way of illustrating that you've understood the type of activity a client is interested in can help to build credibility and trust.
3. Delve deeper into their ambitions
Having built a rapport and started to develop trust, you're in a position to ask further questions about their ambitions and motivations for the business. Challenges and obstacles may be a sensitive subject, so approach with care, but this is the time to discuss whether or not a goal is SMART. If not, can it be? If it can't be, maybe it's time to suggest an alternative goal that supports their overall ambitions in a different way. Remember - you're ultimately going to be accountable for how they perceive the quality of your work, so agreeing what success looks like upfront is a no-brainer.
4. Explore existing data and resources
Knowing more about the business ambitions, your objectives and potential challenges, discover more information about the landscape of existing intelligence and resource. Any audience insights, sales data or customer details available from the client might answer some of the crucial questions about the Who, What, Where, When and Why of any marketing activity. Don't exclude team members outside of marketing. For instance, reception staff and office managers usually have a finger on the pulse of a business and can give you more inside intel than you might think. Want to know more about how customers respond to a sales message? Ask the sales team on the frontline. Or better yet, ask the customers themselves if you can. Either way - be resourceful and curious about how you might utilise any existing input.