Project Management

How to Create a Trusting Partnership With Any Client

Woman shakes hand with man at a business meeting

By Ahmed Tarik \ June 17, 2019

We all know the importance of trust in the world of marketing. Trust between you and your client, manager, or board members results in more creative freedom, productive collaboration, and a consistent brand strategy. For project managers, trust is the name of the game. It’s the Holy Grail.

And just like the Holy Grail, trust is hard to obtain. It’s not something that’s given. It’s not a contractual clause. It is earned. But how exactly?

What if you’re young and don’t have much industry experience? What if you are experienced, but are new to a company or are picking up a client relationship someone else left on rocky ground? What if you are partnered with someone who simply has a tough time trusting?

Fortunately, there’s a simple equation we use at idfive to earn trust. Taken from the book The Trusted Advisor, “The Trust Equation” helps project managers strategically earn trust by using different tactics depending on the type of client relationship. Apply this equation, and you’ll find yourself with stronger partnerships and more successful projects. Trust us.

The Trust Equation

This is the Trust Equation:

Trustworthiness = Credibility + Intimacy + Reliability / Self-orientation

In the equation, your trustworthiness equals how your credibility, intimacy, and reliability add up in the eyes of the client. This score is then divided by your level of self-orientation (how self-interested you are).

Confused? No problem. Let’s take a look at each part of the equation.

Credibility

Credibility is comprised of many things: your credentials as a business professional, your experience level, your reputation in the industry, etc. All these things help clients answer the question: “Why should I believe what you are saying?”

According to CEO and marketing strategist Brent Trotter, “The best service professionals excel at two things in conveying credibility: anticipating needs, and speaking about needs that are not commonly articulated.”

As an executive, you need to listen to your client’s needs and use your expertise to solve their problems. If you can point out a problem your client doesn’t know about and have the solution already prepared, that’s even better. Doing this will help the client see you as the expert you are, and therefore a credible partner.

Take-Away:

  • Know your stuff and admit when you don’t, you will be more credible if you admit when you don’t know.

Intimacy

In the Trust Equation, Intimacy relates to how personal your relationship with the client is. While there are obvious limits to how personal you want to be with a client, people need to feel comfortable around you before they can trust you. While credibility is task-oriented, intimacy is relationship-oriented. The two can clash, but great project managers know how to balance them.

In the article “Five Conflict Styles Every Project Manager Needs to Know” I break down the different ways project managers can work with different personality types. For instance, a “collaborative style” should be used when you are working with a group of clients who all have the same level of experience and relevant expertise, while a “compromising style” should be used when you have a group of clients with contradicting goals and opinions. 

You need to know the type of person your client is before you can build a personal relationship. Understanding what makes them tick helps you build that personal relationship, which in turn, increases intimacy.

Take-Away:

  • Use honey, not vinegar. Mean people suck. We are a team. Be polite, graceful, thankful and respectful.
  • Make time for small talk before and after client interactions. Show an earnest interest in their lives outside of work. At the end of the day, you’re a person with interests, emotions, hopes, and dreams, and so are they.

Reliability

In The Trusted Advisor, the authors write: “Reliability is about whether clients think you are dependable and can be trusted to behave in consistent ways.” The key word here is “consistent.” Maintaining reliability is as simple as making sure you are always on your A-game. And while it’s impossible to manage a perfect project every time, there are plenty of things you can do to make up for mistakes and be more consistent.

Take-Away:

  • No Surprises: If you know you’re running into a wall and you’re about to miss a deadline, tell your client a week in advance. Don’t wait. Attack it head-on.
  • Under promise and over deliver.
  • Never say “I can” or “I will” unless you know that you can or you will.

Self-Orientation

Essentially, self-orientation is how self-interested you are. Throughout a project, your client is likely wondering, “Do I trust this person to care about my project and my team, or are they going to act solely based on their own needs and self-interest?”

Too often, account executives make the mistake of caring more about what’s good for themselves than what’s good for the project. They devise strategies that are beneficial to their own team, maybe because they require less time or cater to their specific expertise, but aren’t the best solutions for the clients. Similarly, they care more about how they look in front of their boss than how they look in front of the client.

While this approach might be beneficial in the short term, in the long run, it will only make you less trustworthy and hurt all the other factors of the Trust Equation. 

Take-Away:

  • Find little ways to make your client’s job easier (provide information so they don’t have to go looking for it, plan meetings that fit their schedule, etc.)
  • Make the client look good in front of their bosses.
  • Don’t use the word “I”. “We” goes a long way.

Putting It Together

As you can see, trust is not a simple concept. It’s determined by a number of intermixed factors that you don’t always have control of.  

The good news is that by focussing on each individual aspect of the trust equation—credibility, intimacy, reliability and self-orientation—you can come up with strategic ways to build trust no matter the circumstance.

If you put the Trust Equation into action, you will find stronger client and team relationships. When you have that, the work will follow.

Ahmed Tarik
Senior Account Executive
Ahmed Tarik
Senior Account Executive

Ahmed has mastered managing everything from fast-moving, short-term web projects to large-scale, multi-year contracts. He leads each with diligence, level-headedness, and incredible problem-solving skills. Always a great listener and eager to help, Ahmed has that ready-for-anything attitude every team needs. The caveat is that when he's on the soccer field, Ahmed reserves his kind demeanor for the post-game handshakes only.