The other day I had a client meeting not in a conference room or a Starbucks but the local establishment down the street serving cold frosty ones. It’s not mandatory by any means that my clients go out for a beer with me…but there’s an interesting pattern I’ve seen emerge over the years with the ones that do.
The ones who do seem to open up a little more about what’s on their mind, where they want to take their brand and the greater vision for what they want to achieve will invariably find themselves talking about it to me outside of their walls. And when they do that, they tend to say, “C’mon. Let’s go have a few beers. I want to pick your brain about…”
It’s not about the alcohol, really.
This is a magical moment. What I’m talking about is an extra level beyond the “satisfied client.” I’m talking about the client that sees you as not just a supplier of services but an advisor. A confidant. A consigliere. It’s not just about a conversation about ads or social media or marketing.
It’s a business conversation. A product development conversation. A cultural conversation.
This is rarified ground. Not every client is comfortable taking it here. They have their barriers they want to leave up. For now, anyway.
The ones that don’t have such barriers, however, will often not see themselves in that higher ground of respect they deserve because they’ll think it’s all about the billing that determines their place on the totem pole. Ah, but how wrong these humble souls are.
In truth, they’re giving you access to a deeper level of communication that you won’t get just anywhere. Seize it. These are the ways great relationship stories are told. These people can be your best advocates to others. These are the people who let you in so you can become more than a “writer” or “designer” or whatever you put in your job description.
This is one of the great things I like about calling myself a consultant because I feel the business of helping clients communicate internally and externally could be more consultative than a typical “vendor-client” relationship.
We could all use at least one “beer-worthy” client. Or at least the kind of client you could easily visualize having a few beers with. It doesn’t make it less serious business or that we’re about to get tipsy. Just the opposite. It means a bond is about to be strengthened.
Some will blow this opportunity with schmoozing and sales-ish butt kissing. Please. Don’t be that cheeseball stereotype. Laugh and let your guard down a little. As long as you keep it real about the purpose of why you’re there and stay on point. And above all, use the two devices that so many people neglect – those things on the sides of your head called ears. It is at this moment when they’re opening up even more than usual that intense listening would not be a bad thing.
Just a couple of beers? I call it something more – an opportunity for relationship building on tap. And it’s amazing how it works out that way time and time again with some of the best clients I’ve had and cherish.