It takes two to tango when it comes to partner relationships

Over the years of helping firms establish filters for identifying their best new clients to target, one criteria inevitably surfaces – “we want to work with clients who see us as a partner and not a vendor”.

This is a great filter. After all, what firm in their right mind wants to be treated like a ‘vendor’ anyway?  Also, the life of partner-like relationships tends to be much longer than vendor relationships. The problem is many times firms don’t always walk the walk themselves, and that’s ultimately troubling because when it comes to fostering any true partner relationship, it takes two to tango.

If you want to find out how strong of a partner your firm is, start by looking at these 6 characteristics. They will help you determine how strong your partnering profile is and also assess a client’s or prospective client’s profile:

  1. Willingness to listen first
  2. Willingness to change
  3. Willing to admit mistakes
  4. Sees the relationship as an opportunity to give
  5. Keeps promises
  6. Considers what’s in the best interest of their partner

While all are important, I believe that partnering starts with listening. So, to what degree is your team really listening and open and willing to change? By the way, I believe that if the former is true the latter will be much more likely to happen. For example, when your client tells the team what they want, do they typically come back with

  1. What the client asked for even if it’s not an approach that the team might recommend
  2. Something different because they don’t believe what the client requested is the right approach
  3. What the client asked for in addition to an option(s) that the team feels is the right approach:

I sure hope you answered either “1” or “3” and preferably “3” – that is of course if you’re interested in fostering partner-like relationships with clients.

We frequently conduct Client Research on behalf of firms. One characteristic that consistently has high value according to clients happens to be a willingness to truly listen. And something that really aggravates clients is when you ignore what they’ve asked for. Even if you don’t like their idea, you’re much better off bringing them what they requested along with your recommendation as an option.

I realize that saying “we listen” probably sounds trite. I suppose that’s because it seems so easy to do and most firms think they do. However most clients that I’ve talked to over time tell a very different story – that agencies actually do a very poor job of it and that it affects the relationship. Maybe that’s why it is expressed with such exuberance when a client talks about a firm that really does listen.

If you want to find and foster more partner-like client relationships, remember that you first need to walk the walk because ultimately it does take two to tango.

Thanks for your time and as always, good hunting (and partnering)!

Larry Melnick



  1. Martha Pfeifer 11/20/2012, 2:51 pm Reply

    As we go into a holiday that has us reflecting on what we are grateful for, this is a good reflection for our businesses.

    • Larry 11/21/2012, 11:04 am Reply

      Good point! Thanks for sharing Martha.

  2. Bubba 12/04/2012, 5:00 pm Reply

    Larry, you nailed it. Listening ain’t easy sometimes. But if you demonstrate that you have truly listened, you stand a far greater chance of securing client trust – vital to a long term client partnership.

    • Larry 12/04/2012, 5:42 pm Reply

      Thanks, Bubba and good point. I believe relationships start with listening. How could you trust someone if you don’t feel like they hear what you say? It’s tough because I know that clients don’t listen many times. They want what they want. But then again, they are the client aren’t they? An agency’s client said something that I thought was pretty powerful recently, “When agencies listen to us, we listen to them. This builds mutual trust that can make projects go much smoother and more quickly and save money”

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