Last Wednesday 6th April, the Brighton Digital Women community gathered round the table in our own little side room at the Mesmerist. The perfect size for the 15+ attendees, the room was abuzz with introductions and excited chatter as we topped up on wine and gradually settled down for the evening’s discussions.
Cath Foster, an Account Director for Fresh Egg, joined us to lead the evening’s session and share her insights on how to approach client relationships and negotiation.
Understand your client’s business to create trust
The first tip Cath shared was to gain a really thorough understanding of your client’s business in order to start building a relationship with them.
To truly understand a business, you need to understand the context it operates in. Cath recommended using a Political, Economic, Social and Technical (PEST) analysis to drill down into all aspects affecting the way the client’s business operates.
Cath uses the PEST analysis to feed into a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis to get a really good overview of where the business is at. This analysis then feeds into the digital marketing strategy that Cath creates for the client.
As well as paving the way for a well-informed strategy, this level of in-depth analysis equips Cath to engage in meaningful conversations with her clients whenever she interacts with them. It also enables her to ask business-critical questions at key points during the relationship. Demonstrating insight in this way creates trust between Cath and the client.
Practice clear and frequent communication
Cath emphasised the importance of communicating with the client on a regular basis to deepen the relationship. All communication should be easily digestible and get across the key points as quickly as possible, with any extra detail or narrative after the main message.
This style of communication is called Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF) and comes from the military. BLUF is a move away from a narrative style of emails or reports where you tell a story that leads up to your conclusion. Instead you put the key takeaway in the first line of communication and then you flesh out the supporting detail underneath – a bit like the way a story follows the headline in a newspaper.
Communicating in this way makes it a lot easier for busy clients to immediately understand what action they need to take. Whenever they open an email from you they get the sense it will offer them value and improve their ability to do their job – rather than make them spend time picking out the key points you’re trying to get across.
Establishing a habit of effective communication with a client means if any problems occur as the relationship progresses, you are well placed to address these and you understand how to frame the message in a way that will be understood.
Build rapport by making your client shine
A great way to build rapport with your clients is to make them look good, Cath explained.
By finding out what they are targeted on and how their performance is measured, you can ensure that you are working to help them achieve this. In doing so, you’re going to help them do well in their role and look good to their managers.
In addition, if you are able to understand their current stresses and the problems that are keeping your client awake at night you can look to help resolve these to strengthen the relationship.
It is human nature that when you help people in this way, they are grateful and they warm to you as a result. Sounds obvious when it’s spelled out – but helping clients shine as individuals is sometimes something that is over looked in a professional environment.
Get to know your client on a personal level
Cath shared that she finds that sharing likes and dislikes and having discussions about life outside work means she can break down barriers in client relationships.
For Cath, it leads the way for more effective conversations about the work in hand – because she understands the client’s mindset that bit better.
Dealing with disagreements
It seems counterintuitive but Cath explained that sometimes conflict in the client relationship can lead to better outcomes and should be embraced not feared.
This is because having a full and frank discussion around a subject the client disagrees with you on can get things out in the open. It can enable you to get to the crux of an issue, so that concerns don’t fester.
Disagreements can allow both parties to air their views so a satisfactory resolution can be found – and the client comes away much happier for it. In this way, fewer issues are caused further down the line.
Taking the pressure out of negotiation
Cath’s top tip for negotiation was to enter discussions with Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) in mind.
Knowing what you would like to happen if your primary objective is not agreed enables you to conduct discussions in a less pressurised way. It eases the conversation and it also demonstrates to the client you are reasonable and open to compromise – without compromising your company’s core position.
Approaching client relationships and negotiation as a woman
At the beginning of the evening Cath had asked the community an interesting question: should the way in which we approach client relationships and negotiation be different as a woman?
We came back to discuss this question once the discussion was flowing more freely and we were starting to share our experiences more openly.
One point explored was that we shouldn’t have to approach these aspects of Account Management any differently as women – but that in practice, some of our experience has told us that we need to.
The way we approach something is often shaped by the feedback we got last time we were in the same situation. And during our time in education and throughout our working lives, there are some situations where we observe receiving different feedback as women to our male counterparts in very similar situations.
For example, we may see a quality being praised in a male classmate or colleague, while behaviour we’ve exhibited demonstrating the exact same quality has been met with criticism. This can cause us to tone down our personality or hold back when we would usually have spoken up.
A frequently cited example of this is that within our culture, sometimes leadership qualities praised in men can be dismissed as bossiness in women.
Another example is that we do sometimes see ambition and confidence – which are celebrated in men – are labelled as arrogance, self-absorption or even aggression in women.
Similarly, the focus rewarded in men can be criticised as seriousness or coldness in women. Or even worse, sometimes when deep in thought or concentration, a woman can be met with a: “Cheer up, it might never happen”.
You get the idea.
And yes, these are all extreme examples. I’m sure that not many of us have experienced such clear cut gender differentiated responses to shared male and female qualities.
However, there is some truth in it. In subtle ways, many of us will have experienced gender differentiations in the way qualities we share with our male counterpart are interpreted.
For me, being treated subtly differently in this way means that I do approach situations at work slightly differently as a woman. Because this is what the negative feedback I’ve received over time has taught me to do.
It makes me much more mindful of how I am coming across. This can mean I censor myself or overthink situations – whereas I should be able to be my natural self without fearing this will attract negative attention.
Is poor negotiation a confidence or gendered issue?
We went on to discuss difficulties in negotiation and how to help yourself if you have a tendency to shy away from it.
One opinion was that lack of success in negotiation was purely a confidence issue, and not a gender issue. However, a few of us thought it might be a little more complex than that – and perhaps feeling difficult about negotiations, particularly around salary, might be a more gendered issue.
Some people expressed they felt it hard to negotiate because they were concerned how this might come across and whether they might be thought of badly for broaching the subject of more money.
We discussed whether this is learned because women are socialised to be more sensitive to how they are coming across and feel more apologetic about asking for things. Whereas it seems somehow to be a more commonly recognised norm in our society for men to openly ask for more money without being concerned about how this will impact them if the answer is no.
We would be really interested in carrying on this discussion, so please Tweet us @BTNDigitalWomen with your views on negotiation, particularly around salary. Let us know if you think it’s something men and women approach in the same way.
And if not, why not: biology or socialisation?
A united approach
As one of the co-founders, I was particularly enthused when I arrived to see about a fifth of our attendees were men. This is quite a big deal for us, as Rachel, Alice and I have been very keen to challenge the stereotype of the “feminist-crusader style” women’s groups.
We see gender bias in the digital and technology sector as something inherent culturally – not something either gender or any particular individual perpetuates.
As such, we feel women’s groups or causes that alienate men aren’t best placed to make effective change. If we want to change the make-up of our companies and of wider society, we need to involve everyone who has a say in how those companies are run. We can’t affect positive change by segregating ourselves and just debating the issue among fellow women.
Come and contribute to the debate
We would love to hear your opinions and to grow our diverse community even further – so if you are yet to attend a Brighton Digital Women meetup, do come along next time.
Our next meetup is on Wednesday May 4th from 6.30pm at the Mesmerist. Register for your ticket here.
We will be discussing: “How digital has changed PR” and this time it’s my turn to be in the hot seat and lead discussions.
I experienced how traditional PR worked when I was an in-house marketer at FDM Group and then went on to take a lead in evolving our digital PR best practice at Fresh Egg. As such, hopefully, I’ll have some good insight to impart. Do come equipped with questions, bugbears and discussion points.
We can’t wait to welcome you then!