Laying the Foundation: 3 tips for Building Trust with Clients


As a digital marketing agency, CM strives to be more than a vendor and more than an outsourced solution. In our best client relationships, we are our clients trusted advisor – someone they rely on for truth, clarity, and guidance when it comes to developing digital strategies that can move their businesses forward. Being a trusted advisor is not something you can simply label yourself; it’s something you earn.

So the question should be asked: What does it take to become a trusted advisor in the marketing space? This question is addressed all over the web in very broad terms, but I’d like to go a level deeper. At CM, here are the specific ways we work to build lasting trust with our clients.

Step 1

Building trust with a client starts before they are a client.
In other words, trust begins with the first conversation that a potential client has with our sales team. The fundamental role of our sales team is not to sell – it’s to prescribe. Selling can be done with limited knowledge of a company’s circumstances while prescribing can only be done once we have a full understanding of the bigger picture.

As an example, a potential client calls in and says, “Hi – I’m interested in developing a LinkedIn strategy for my company. Is that something you can help with?”

In a selling environment, the person may answer with:

“Absolutely! Let me tell you all the great things we can do for you on LinkedIn!”

In a prescribing environment, the person may answer with:

“I’m happy to help dig into this with you. If it’s ok, can I ask you a few questions about your business, who your target customer is, and what your goals are for the next 12 months?”

As you can guess, the second option leads to a much more positive outcome. By taking the time to understand the full situation before offering a solution, we are able to begin the process of building trust from day 1.

Step 2

On the kickoff call, ensure the first 30 days of the project are crystal clear.
Once we’ve started a new relationship with a client, one of the very first things we do is a kickoff call. This covers team introductions, account setup, etc. – but most importantly, it serves as a platform to outline the specifics of the first 30 days of the project.

Nothing causes more anxiety than uncertainty – and when we are able to remove all uncertainty about what the next steps are, who’s responsible for what, and what the deliverable dates are – we not only eliminate any early jitters, but we showcase our ability to effectively manage the project. In turn, this continues the positive momentum of building trust.

Step 3

Show all results – good or bad – and speak openly about them.
The project is up and running, the first 30 days are behind us, and it’s time to begin the process of monthly reporting. All clients are eager to see early signs of progress, and as an agency, we are eager to deliver them.

But as with anything, it’s nearly impossible to deliver perfect results month in and month out. There will ultimately come a time when bad news needs to be delivered, and as the agency we need to decide how we are going to frame it.

So what are our options? In my view, marketers typically choose 1 of 3 routes:

  1. Avoid it
  2. Sugarcoat it
  3. Tell it like it is

Early on my career, I found myself wanting to choose options 1 or 2. Maybe it’s human nature or maybe it was just me, but I found option 3 to be completely horrifying. How could I possibly report bad news? Isn’t it my job to make sure we have good news every single month??

As a matured marketer, I eventually concluded this:

  • Delivering bad news openly, honestly, and with a clear path for correction is an excellent opportunity to build trust.
  • Everyone can deliver good news – that’s easy. As they say, “everyone is a genius in a bull market”. It’s when things aren’t going so well that you learn who’s really got it, and who doesn’t.

I would argue that delivering bad news correctly one time will build more trust than delivering good news 5 times. It’s hard to do, and most people don’t do it well. Be the person that does it well, and you’ll quickly find yourself in the position of a trusted advisor.

The path to becoming a trusted advisor is a long road. It takes far more than what’s covered here to achieve. It takes day in and day out action over a period of many months. But if you are looking to improve in this area, the three items listed here are a great start! Read them, soak them in, and put them into practice.