How do I get clients to see me as senior?

Hello, and welcome to the first edition of The Coaching Couch. This is the place where talented research professionals can seek out support for anything they think is getting in the way of feeling, being and giving their best at work.

Today’s question is: How do I get clients who I have worked with a long time to see me as senior?

Firstly – great question.

As an industry, we are quite young. Recruitment agency Elizabeth Norman International’s latest salary survey showed that just 3% of respondents working in the Insight profession were over 55.

This means you’re not going to be alone in having these feelings. Here’s why and what you can start to do about it.

Tip #1 – THINK of the Client-Agency Relationship as a Relationship of Equals.

We tend to see the power dynamic as uneven. The client is paying us. The client is often older than us, and has more years of experience than us.

Instead, try seeing the relationship as one between two equals, but both with different roles to play and distinct value to add:

  • The client is the expert on their business, the impact the research needs to have, the internal challenges and politics that need to be navigated.
  • And you, as the research professional are the expert on the design, execution and delivery of the research.

Tip #2 – Don’t let what a client says or does dictate how senior you FEEL.

When I explore with my clients what makes them feel less senior, it is often because the client requests someone more senior on the project as well as them.

Whilst this can feel like the client does not fully trust you, I would argue this is only one possible interpretation. It’s often the one our brain jumps to, and fails to challenge, because it supports a story we are already telling ourself – ‘am I good enough?’

There are in fact many other interpretations:

  • The client enjoys working with this more senior person
  • The client wants their project to be prioritised
  • The client wants multiple brains on their work
  • The client is on autopilot and continuing a long-standing habit

Note that none of these highly plausible reasons relate to how senior or competent the client perceives you to be.

Tip #3 DO define your contribution, even when you are not the most senior person on the project.

  • Consider what your role and voice will be on the project.
  • Identify tangible opportunities to build credibility with the client – sections of meetings you will run, challenges you can resolve, deliverables you can lead on.
  • Focus on relationship building. Building trust is more about rapport than expertise, so seek out small moments of connection – e.g. dropping them a note after an interesting group.

Wrapping Up

Feeling senior matters… because it links us to our worth and our value.

When you can identify ways to re-affirm and demonstrate your value to your clients, then you (and everyone on your team) will see themselves as integral, regardless of title or place in the hierarchy on the project team or how a client treats you.

If this resonated with you or you have an experience to share, drop a comment in the notes. If you have a question you want answered in a future column, get in touch at


Coaching Corner is a bi-monthly column by Zoe Fenn. Zoe is a qualified coach with 15 years of agency-side experience, both as a researcher and a leader and manager. She now runs her own business, You Burn Bright, running 121 and group leadership programmes to help talented researchers become effective leaders.