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3 Steps to Help Build Trust with Clients & Execs

A marketing team must have the trust of those they support. If you want to develop trust and gain more resources, you must understand that you are there to listen and to serve.


In-house and agency marketing teams who labor to serve their organizations face many struggles and obstacles.

There is never enough time, people, or money – and most executive teams don’t have realistic expectations of what marketing can do with the resources they are given.

This isn’t a gripe, but a reality that everyone in marketing eventually learns.

The old paradigm is that there are only two things that a marketing leader can do in light of this stark reality.

  • Continue to do what has been done in the past with the given resources (and develop a serious drinking problem).
  • Look for a more efficient way of doing things. (This is helpful but does not fundamentally fix the underlying problem.)

Here’s the root of the problem:

Many marketing teams are not trusted. They are seen as fulfillment centers rather than centers of marketing strategies.

In other words, a great many marketing teams are treated more like FedEx Kinkos and less like a group of professionals tasked with crafting complex marketing strategies.

All the tools and tactics in the world mean absolutely nothing if a marketing team does not have the trust of those they support.

Trust is the difference between a marketing team that is resourced and valued and a marketing team that is under-resourced and eventually replaced.

What’s the solution?

Here are three ways to help build trust with clients and executives.

1. A Framework of Humility

Every sales team wants marketing to become more efficient and productive (and to make more money).

This reality, if leveraged appropriately, tolerates some pretty substantial disruption and change.

The problem comes from another truth which is difficult for most marketers to stomach.

The only way for real, substantive change to happen is for us to work like we truly understand that marketing serves the client. This should be intuitive, but unfortunately, it is not for many in marketing.

Many of us come into meetings like we’re the cowboy dressed in white, ready to be the hero, and all we need to be successful is for the client to keep quiet and let us work.

Needless to say, this is never an effective way to build trust.

As long as a marketing leader is humble and listens, there are only a few clients who won’t be receptive to strategic change.

Trust is much more easily gained when from a position of service rather than from a position of dominance.

The best way to do this is to shut up and listen.

It isn’t your show.

It’s the client’s show.

Your focus should be on their goals, not your own.

It is easy to focus on the vanity metrics, but until you can start tailoring your marketing campaigns to achieving goals that are at the sales level, your marketing efforts will never be seen as anything more than “cute” by the client’s sales teams.

2. Goal Setting & the Quarterly Sales/Marketing Meeting

It’s easy to walk into a business meeting and to start spouting off marketing jargon.

It’s more difficult to truthfully ask, “What do you want to accomplish this quarter?”

One allows you to look smart (for a time) and the other sets you up for the potential to fail.

One means absolutely nothing to a sales executive and the other gives you the opportunity to make a real impact on the organization.

Talking about tools and tactics is fun and will impress people initially, but when your efforts result in little or no impact on the bottom line (almost assured if done external to sales level goals), they will stop listening to you.

The most efficient way to craft marketing campaigns is from the goal down, done in quarterly meetings.

There are two benefits here:

  • It gives you an understanding of what the sales team is really facing and where marketing can drive the most impact.
  • It shows the sales team that you want to help them, not to tell them what you want to do. As excited as sales teams are about organizational level marketing efforts, they are more concerned about hitting their team-level goals.

Meeting Methodology

  • Whiteboard the top 5-7 goals for the client for the next three months to a year. These need to be a mixture of quantitative and qualitative goals, but must all be able to be measurable. While doing so, make sure that these goals are numbered in order to show which goals are being addressed. In subsequent quarterly meetings, the first part of the meeting will be reviewing the goals and seeing how well the campaigns did at helping achieve those goals.
    • Example:
      • Increase C-Suite appointments by 10 percent quarter over quarter
      • Increase opportunity revenue by 15 percent quarter over quarter
      • Increase exposure of our sales executives (thought leadership)
      • Increase inbound leads generated for inside sales by 10 percent quarter over quarter
      • Leverage the X-Max User Conference to cross-sell the “New Module” to the user base
  • Whiteboard three to four complex marketing campaigns that target at least two of these goals, making sure that you hit at least one quantitative and one qualitative goal. Make sure that you stay out of the minutia. You can flesh out the details in your creative briefs. Get input from the sales leadership (listen!). Asking questions about how well they think these campaigns will be received by their customers will go a long way in earning their trust and buy-in.
    • Example Marketing Campaign: X-Max User Conference Campaign
      • Nurture campaign (5,3)
        • Email #1: Save the date
        • Email #2: Schedule of events (3)
          • Highlight V.P. Smith’s talk
        • Email #3: Final invite
      • Retargeting campaign (Social and Adsense) (1,4,5)
        • Cookie: Events page
        • Ad: “New Module” –> Landing page
      • Follow-up
        • Follow-up emails (1,5)
          • “Thank you” email
          • New Module Highlights
        • All Attendees call campaign (1,5)
  • Create a strategic document at the tactical level with due dates and expected outcomes. Ask the client to review and to sign off. Only after that should you start inputting said campaigns into your project management system.

3. Project Management as the Point of Contact with the Client & Creatives

Your project manager is hands down the most important element of your marketing team.

It is amazing how few in-house marketing teams have a dedicated project manager.

Without a good project manager, you will never be able to build trust within the organization because you will have to continuously manage creatives rather than focusing on developing relationships and strategies for your clients (build trust).

A good project manager is worth his or her weight in gold because this person allows you to worry about dealing with problems and high-level strategy without having your focus diverted to day-to-day marketing execution.

When your client knows that there is a person who understands where everything is in-process, they can feel comfortable that their campaigns are in good hands.

That being said, when a project is in-process, don’t be an additional step to getting things done. Your project manager should be the person who knows the most about where things are in-process.

When you force the clients to go through you for updates and input, you are causing extra work for yourself and additional opportunities for things to fall through the cracks.

Empower your project manager to keep the creatives on task without having to get important information from you to do so.

With this level of trust comes a need for regular updates.

Be sure to meet with your project manager first thing every morning. This way you are not a stumbling block to execution, but you also know what is going on.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!

Making sure that your project manager communicates at an appropriate level is essential to building trust.

This requires a good project management tool, which can at the very least give your project manager enough information to craft a weekly email update and at the best has executive dashboards that allow clients access to where everything is in process.

The client might not look at these reports, but they won’t be able to say that they were uninformed.

The best part of leveraging a project management tool and demanding this level of communication is that when deliverables are in danger of being late, everyone knows prior to the due date instead of after.

The two things that will destroy trust the most are being late and under-communicating. This makes sure that you don’t do either.


Many times marketing leaders/consultants assume that they have gained trust by the very fact that they have been hired.

In truth, it is rarely the case.

Being intentional in showing that the marketing team cares about hitting the client’s goals as much as they do requires much more than simply saying it.

Most marketers like to speak a lot and execute little and proving that you are not the next blowhard is not optional.

Lastly, kill the idea that you are the rock star marketer that is here to save the day. If you want to develop trust and thus gain more resources, understand that you are there to listen and to serve. Then execute well!

More Agency Resources:

Category Careers
Michael Davis Senior Director of Marketing, Communications, and Media at RZIM

Mike is an online marketer with over 15 years experience (in-house and consulting) in helping businesses drive traffic to their ...

3 Steps to Help Build Trust with Clients & Execs

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