The value of not knowing it all

As agency leaders, we're supposed to have all of the answers.

As agency leaders, we're supposed to have all of the answers. We develop strategy for global companies and manage a complex web of activities that require us to play the role of bookkeeper, researcher, salesman, counselor, and often, magician.

That's why, on the surface, it may seem so surprising that the most successful agency leaders have achieved that success precisely because of their ability to not know it all. It's their ability to dive beneath the surface and identify hidden needs that helps them build strong relationships and engender trust.  

Consider two key scenarios:

1. You meet with a perspective client. It's your opportunity to blow them away with your knowledge and experience, right? The “dog-and-pony show” is the industry's accepted approach, and most people who have worked with PR firms expect it. But is this the most successful approach?

Savvy pros set aside a section of the presentation to identify needs and propose possible strategies, and then turn it over to the prospect to react. It starts a discussion rather than a show and provides insight that the show will never reveal.

You'll have the chance to ask the smart questions that others might not be asking, such as, “What are the persistent issues you face day to day?" or "What would happen if we solve/don't solve these issues?” Not knowing all of the answers is crucial to helping you truly understand them and their needs – and it positions you as a better counselor in the process.

2. You've built a position of trust with your clients, you know their business, their challenges, and their needs as well as they do. But have you gotten too comfortable? A senior counselor that asks the tough questions rarely loses his or her place as a client's most trusted advisor.

You might not always like the answers, but stop to ask your clients … what can we be doing to help you better exceed your goals? What tough feedback are you getting internally that we can help solve? Getting these answers before you discuss program ideas will ensure your activities are always improving outcomes year over year.

Anne Colaiacovo is partner and GM of the New York office of Allison & Partners.

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