How to Be Seen as a Strategic Partner to Your Internal Clients

October 14, 2014 Raechel Duplain

Why don't your internal clients see you as a strategic partner?

The life of an in-house creative team is fraught with frustrations—some even painful enough to tweet about. The following tweet comes from a real in-house creative found using the hashtag #CreativeProbs.*

[caption id="attachment_15934" align="alignright" width="334"][strategic partner]1 How can you help clients see you as a strategic partner?[/caption]

It's a struggle, getting clients to view you as a strategic partner and expert in your craft instead of some infinite resource akin to a machine. One of the biggest contributors to this problem is a lack of trust or credibility from your clients. 39% of in-house creative teams say gaining respect from their internal clients is their biggest challenge. They won't ask for your opinion, consult your knowledge about design or content best practices, and many will begin to outsource—a direct threat to the existence of your team. So, how do you get them to view you and your team as experts?

70% of in-house creative teams cite client behaviors as their top challenge in 2014. If your team isn't consistent about hitting deadlines and budgets, keeping the client informed, and managing expectations, your clients throughout the organization will only view you as difficult to work with. To become a strategic partner, you need to build client relationships on a foundation of trust. Here are a few best practices for getting the cred you deserve:

Deliver what and when you promise

It sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) to know how often this doesn't happen. The first step in building trust and credibility with your client is by delivering what you say you will, when you say you will. This means your time estimations need to be near perfect. And there's no better way to do that than by accurately tracking your time. 41% of in-house creative teams do not track their time. 16% track time manually.

There are several tools available to help your team do this, but what really matters is that you be able to accurately compare your planned vs. actual hours on like projects. After two or three of these projects are completed, you should have a pretty decent idea of how long they will take you. You may even have a good idea of which team member is faster at what and can plan your resources accordingly in the future.

Consider becoming an in-house agency

This move won't necessarily make sense for every team, but if your in-house creative services team is large (20+ team members) and needs a better way to prove its existence, consider doing what creative teams of companies like Disney, Best Buy, Hyundai, and American Express are doing: becoming full-service in-house agencies. This accomplishes a number of things. First, your team functions like an agency and therefore can be competitive and win the best projects. Second, in-house agencies can win awards, just like regular agencies, to help them build credibility and are often more likely to be seen as business partners and experts than just shared resources. In 2013, 58% of creative teams reported being full-service, in-house agencies. Up 16 percentage points from 2008. Becoming an in-house agency is a very strategic move and, if executed correctly, can protect your team from being replaced by an outside agency or from losing projects to outsourcing.

Even though some #CreativeProbs can be summed up in 140 characters or less, they shouldn't be dismissed with a simple, "Well, that's just the life of a creative." Your in-house creative team has the power to solve all your creative problems and frustrations—you just have to start now to make the change. By managing your work with more visibility and the right structure, you'll dramatically improve the state of your team, kill your work chaos, and show everyone why your team is valuable and awesome.

*Twitter handles and names have been changed to protect tweeter identities. Any connection between our made-up names and handles to real people is purely accidental.

About the Author

Raechel Duplain

Raechel is an award-winning content marketer who has particular expertise in managing B2B content marketing projects and campaigns, developing content strategies, and marrying content with design. She’s a Certified Scrum Master and a Marketing Workflow Expert who’s passionate about the Agile Marketing methodology. When she’s not working, Raechel spends her time with her husband, at the beach, or pretending like she’s going for a run.

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