Healthy client relationships get created, or broken, in the sales process.

That means it's vital to have clear principles for how you establish the relationship, long before they're even your client.

One of the fundamental principles is balance.

I describe this as being like a zipper.

If something on the client slide connects with something on the agency side, then the zipper passes and there's a strong connection.

But if anything's missing, it gets stuck and things don't fit — or they fall apart.

So, for example...

  • They pay money = you provide a service of equal value. Explicitly recognise that the money is balanced by the service provided, and you don't need to then give in on lots of other things 'because they're paying'. That leads to imbalance.
  • They have plenty of time in the sales process to answer questions or make decisions = you get plenty of time to prepare proposals and pitches.
  • You commit to deliver on time = they commit to pay on time.
  • They want penalties for any delay in delivery = you want penalties for any delay in dependencies or decisions
  • They want an NDA/non-poaching/etc = you also get the same, with both signing a mutual agreement with equal terms.
  • They insist on key people on your team = you get commitments about the key people on their team.
  • And so on...

If at any point in the sales process, or in the client relationship that follows, you find they are trying to force an imbalance — with something they want not matched by something you get — then it's a red flag.

These red flags, and keeping an eye on the balance in the relationship, need to be handled by someone senior in your agency with enough confidence (see last week's Espresso) in themselves and what the agency does to guide things back into balance.

Good clients will negotiate firmly, but ultimately respect when you hold fast and ensure a balanced, equal relationship. That's part of how you build respect.

In every client relationship, picture the give and take of each side meeting like a zipper — each must connect with an opposite part.

So, this week, think about your existing client relationships and whether any work needs to be done to get the zippers better aligned.