Call them Clients? No, they are Business Partners!

I recently visited the website of the book “The Art of Client Service” written by veteran advertising Account Manager Robert Solomon. Though I have yet to read the book (I plan to eventually!), the content really resonates with me, as it is a snap shot of the Strategic Design Management role I play daily.
One thing that I find a little odd though about the Book’s title was the Book’s reference of the “client”. This is because I was part of a discussion where we agreed to reclassify “clients” as “business partners”. Please let me explain.
While the general gist of the relationship you would have with a “Client” or “Business Partner” is still essentially the same, the mindset of how we deal with them is fundamentally different. I would encourage, both designers working for in-house design teams or external consultancies, to seriously consider adopting a business partner mindset.
Business partners trust
As Robert shares on his website, trust is an integral factor in the ability to successfully create and deliver good work. Business partners trust each other implicitly and are privy to high-level strategic decision making discussions. Not only that, Business Partners are given a voice in such discussions and are able to influence each other and the outcome of the decisions made.
Mutual respect for each other
Business partners understand each other’s Strengths and Limitations. They also have full respect for each other’s counsel while challenging the other to do their very best. Business partners also respect each other enough to give each other the space to do their very best work.
Equal stake and thus equal responsibility
Business partners view their involvement in projects as equal shareholders. This means both have an equal stake should it become a success, and both have an equal responsibility should it be a failure.
A “Win Win” view to conflict resolution
All great relationships will have conflicts from time to time. That is just a fact of life! Business partners always resolve such conflicts as a Win-Win situation for both sides.
Talk solutions not problems
Business partners will never ignore a problem that might impact the other’s success or wellbeing. Such problems are then only tabled with solutions closely following behind.
Business partners have each other’s best interests at heart
Finally, when push comes to shove, business partners have their best interests at heart. This means when it comes to the very difficult decisions (budget, resource, schedule etc.) putting the business partner first is always the first yardstick.
I like to end this short post with a quick comment. These few points I have suggested above I would consider as the “utopia” we should strive towards. From my experience working in our very tough and competitive market driven economy, I will concede that such suggestions are easier said than done.
Best of luck friends!

  • Peter Thomson

    May 3, 2009 at 2:47 pm Reply

    The book “The Trusted Advisor” by Michael Green was instrumental in challanging the way we managed client relationships. The main takeaway was: “Ask lots of questions and listen alot.” But there is more to it than that.
    For an easy introduction, his articles at are a good start.

  • Trevor Collins

    April 8, 2009 at 1:58 am Reply

    Hi, A very interesting article. It has really made me think about the way we treat our customers.

  • Khaled

    April 6, 2009 at 6:01 pm Reply

    When my business first started working with business partners we also had the same problem where by companies would see your time as a free means of generating ideas. When we started charging for the time the quality of relationships improved because of the respect that was there. They respected us enough to value paying for our time and as such the relationships built with our business partners strengthened.

  • DT

    April 5, 2009 at 6:46 pm Reply

    Hi Claudia: That is a problem, sometimes business partners expect you to do more than you are paid. Occasionally is fine but it is bad if it becomes a habit. In reality these are not really your true business partners. True partners are as in my point 2, have mutual respect in the time needed to do the work. The real problem is when you have a business partner willing to pay and you really don’t have the time to do it. But that is a good problem.
    Hi Sahil: Its tough, but when you have one it is smooth sailing as long as you don’t screw up! LOL!

  • Sahil Karkhanis

    April 3, 2009 at 10:21 am Reply

    Hi Brian
    A lot of the startups, here in India, run by young designers in their 20s and 30s (including ours) follow a similar approach. I agree with Claudia when she says that it is a tough road to walk on. It takes immense time, effort and belief to change one’s own mindset and the partner’s.
    However, we’ve found that it is well worth the effort and pays off in the long run, as you mention in your post.

  • claudia

    April 3, 2009 at 12:00 am Reply

    thanks for sharing! yes, we also prefer to work with business partners. its usually a win-win for all. but sometimes, some people sees business partners as free exchange of time and effort and ideas. which hurts small startups like us.
    but we hope to build better and stronger relationship with our business partners.
    now another thought: what’s the difference between business partners (as in clients) and partners? or are they now the same?

Post a Comment