Using Psychology to Build Strong Agency-Client Relationships

Last night, I attended a panel called “The Psychology of Interviewing,” a discussion about the intricacies of communication in interview settings hosted by Austin creative recruiting agency Mathys+Potestio. The event featured insights by Claire Griffy, a psychotherapist with degrees from The University of Texas at Austin and St. Edward’s University; Kristin Holloway, the Design Director at Dimensional Fund Advisors; and Hal Riley, Head of Studio for DSNxMFG. While the event name implied that it would be targeted towards individuals interviewing for a new job, the discussion actually applied to any scenario where one person is getting to know another person, like a first date or a networking event. As an account manager, I approached the talk through the lens of client-agency relationships, and I left with some pretty solid takeaways.

First, our mindsets about interviews should change. Psychotherapist Claire Griffy explained that instead of focusing on approval in an interview, we should seek to build a relationship. Many people closely tie the outcome of an interview to their worth; if you don’t land the job or the client, it must mean you’re a sucky designer or agency. This way of thinking is not only false, but it also adds even more stress to the situation, and understandably so—that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! Instead of directly tying your value to the outcome of the interview, you should instead focus on building a relationship with the person you’re interviewing with. Approaching the interview as a mutually-beneficial learning moment can take a bit of pressure off of yourself and help you feel more at ease in the conversation, which can, in turn, lead to a more accurate representation of yourself. Which brings me to my next takeaway.

“You don’t need to be better than you are. You just need to be a match for what [your potential client] is looking for.” – Kristin Holloway, Design Director at Dimensional Fund Advisors

If your agency lands an interview with a potential client, the client has already done their research. They’ve seen your portfolio and they know you do great work. The interview is meant to see if the two parties are going to work well together. That being said, you should give them a true view of your agency in the interview—don’t puff yourself up to be an exaggerated version of yourself to impress them. (Basically, don’t lie.) The team you sell in the interview is the team your client will expect, so be real. Be honest about your talents, personalities and processes. If you’re the right fit, the partnership will flourish. If you’re not, don’t sweat it—there are plenty of other opportunities right around the corner.

“You don’t need to be better than you are. You just need to be a match for what [your potential client] is looking for.” – Kristin Holloway, Design Director at Dimensional Fund Advisors

In the process of being authentic with your potential client, they are hopefully being just as real with you. But to know that, you have to ask, which brings me to one of my favorite takeaways: You should interview the client just as much as they’re interviewing you. Approach the interview with an intense curiosity for how the prospect operates. What do they expect from an agency relationship? How would they define a successful partnership? How frequently do they expect to communicate with the agency? Knowing answers to these questions could help you identify early on whether the client would be a good fit with your team and processes.

Finally, you should respect your craft. Hal Riley of DSNxMFG said it well: Your craft has a long history. Many people had to perfect the art of design, painting or knitting before you could say that you do those things. Respect that heritage. When interviewing prospective clients, be honest with them about the time it takes to do your craft well. This is something I admittedly struggle with at times. I’m a hybrid between a project manager and account manager, which means I’m constantly trying to make both my teams and my clients happy. Clients don’t always like to hear that a project will take way longer than they expected, but to honor the craft, we must respect the time it takes to do it well. In the end, the client will appreciate the extra attention given to the project they’re paying big bucks for.

There’s no secret formula for acing your next client interview, and there will almost always be curveballs thrown your way—but hopefully, these takeaways help you approach it as your honest, authentic self.

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