I came across a McKinsey global survey recently about how B2Bs have been talking PAST their customers. There’s a surprising gap between the brand values suppliers convey and what their customers actually want to know.
86% of suppliers claim brand affiliation with corporate social responsibility, yet to their customers, it’s statistically insignificant. What buyers really care about is honest and open dialogue. This got me thinking about my experience with clients. What came out as surprising in the survey is really not surprising in reality.
Why is honesty important?
We live in a world of fast change and uncertainty, so it’s increasingly important to find and work with people on an absolute partnership level. By that I mean being completely honest even if it means upsetting your client. You need to say things they need to hear, not just what they want to hear. That builds deep trust – as you’re truly working for their best interests. The digital landscape is awash with rapid birth and decay. It’s important for consultants to offer confident and calculated predictions, but let’s face it, no one predicts with 100% accuracy. Strong relationships are the only way to tackle an uncertain future. Here are three examples of how honesty bolsters long-term client relationships.
1. It’s not a master-servant relationship. It’s a partnership.
I was in a meeting with the owner of a global retail brand recently, talking about brand positioning and strategy. The key figure in the business holds very strong personal views, and wanted to inject them into the retail brand. A sentiment I totally respect, except that I completely disagree. And I said as much. The client needed to detach personal views from a commercial brand as they are not necessarily the same or relevant to consumers. The CEO was a little taken aback, but the message stuck. Looking out for the client’s best interest instead of agreeing to everything I was told raised our relationship to a whole new level. We went from presenting across the table, to sitting next to the CEO, on the same side, both physically and metaphorically.
2. Call it what it is.
In 2008 the Lehman brothers went bust, the financial markets crashed into ruin, a disaster largely attributable to human greed and over-selling. With that backdrop, we transformed an old and dilapidated BBC building into a new hub for creative start-ups in West London. How did we green-light a property deal during the financial crisis? By doing our research and being straight with our target audience. We didn’t want to over-sell it, or pretend it was something it wasn’t. We called it what it was – Ugli. It’s ugly and beat-up on the outside but it’s lovely inside (lovelyinside.com), which is what really matters – the people. We made it into an affordable and innovative working space for entrepreneurs, artists and media to collaborate. The campus was full within 6 months of launch and is now home to more than 65 companies and 700 members – with a growing waiting list.
3. Rewrite the brief if it saves your client time & money.
A large global tech client invited us to help improve their marketing and sales. But upon closer examination of the business, we discovered they were facing issues in organisational structure, which needed to be addressed before branding efforts would have any real bite. As a brand consultancy, we could have stuck to the brief. But we looked further. Having set up four companies to date, we understand what makes a business tick. We looked beyond the marketing function and into the company as a whole. To achieve true impact, the effort required was much more significant than they had anticipated. Our discussion went up the seniority chain to the president level, and despite seemingly creating more work, the client appreciated our honesty. In the end, the brief was rewritten, averting huge losses in time and money for the client.
In today’s uncertain times, companies all the way down the supply chain are put under the microscope, and with boundaries blurring, the scope of dialogue between suppliers and customers is expanding. But for any of these discussions mentioned in the McKinsey survey to truly move forward constructively, issues such as sustainability, price, quality, and service must be underpinned by trust. When clients come to us for help, we owe them our most honest opinions. That means ditching the master-servant mentality, being visionary, and treating them like partners, saying things as they are without over-selling, and seeing the big picture for the client, even if it means rewriting the brief. Ultimately, it’s about giving clients answers to questions they didn’t even realise they had to ask, because sparing them the whole truth would be a major disservice. Honesty is your best, and smartest, long-term currency.