How Agencies Can Have Successful Client Partnerships [Part 2]

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Let me start by acknowledging your success, which might leave you wondering what insights I, as an agency owner, leader, or staffer, can offer you.

I readily admit that I’m continuously learning from individuals like yourself. Building strong connections with fellow agency owners has been invaluable, often resembling more of a therapeutic exchange than a problem-solving session, yet always yielding insights.

Running an agency is undeniably challenging. Whether it’s in advertising, digital, PR, or any other niche, our industry demands a deep commitment to people – both our team members and clients – as well as the missions and causes that drive our work.

This article serves as the companion “part 2” in a series. The first installment explored how brands can foster successful partnerships with agencies. Now, I’m shifting the focus to the agency’s perspective.

Today, I’m here to share eight crucial lessons gleaned from my nearly two decades in the agency world, primarily drawn from the mistakes I’ve made. My hope is that by sharing these insights, you can bypass some of the hurdles I’ve encountered along the way.

1. Know What You Want Or Need

Neglecting to actively encourage clients to articulate their goals and define success criteria for their investment in an agency—or any resources—can result in wasted time and money for both parties in achieving their ROI objectives, potentially leading to client turnover or attrition.

For many clients, determining their objectives is a process, and numerous agencies, including mine, offer comprehensive planning and strategy processes to facilitate this stage of defining success.

However, failing to uncover the objectives and metrics crucial for evaluating ROI readiness may indicate that clients aren’t fully prepared to embark on assessing an agency partnership. Consequently, they might engage initially but struggle to sustain the relationship over time.

2. Be Clear On Communication

I often stress to both prospects and clients the importance of boldness and honesty, urging them to share their communication preferences openly with us.

Communication isn’t a one-way street. Whether your agency follows structured communication processes or customizes them for each client, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations early on in the relationship.

Be forthcoming about your preferred communication methods, whether it’s via email, Slack, text, phone calls, scheduled meetings, tickets, or messages in a project management system. By outlining how, when, and with what frequency you prefer to communicate, you pave the way for smoother collaboration and mutual understanding.

Certainly, clarity and consistency in communication are vital to both client satisfaction and team efficiency. Here’s a refined rendition:

We prioritize clear communication to prevent clients from having to speculate and our staff from being inundated with untimely messages or misaligned response windows.

Despite the ongoing evolution of subject matter, algorithms, and attribution challenges we navigate, a common reason why prospects and clients seek our services is dissatisfaction with the communication they received from previous agencies.

Recognizing that communication breakdowns are often a two-way issue, many agencies would likely acknowledge their role in the problem or express a desire to have been informed sooner. Fortunately, addressing communication issues is often more straightforward compared to other complexities we encounter in achieving performance goals within a dynamic marketplace.

3. Remember The Scope

In my companion article, I touch upon the importance of not overlooking or neglecting scope, a factor that can easily be overshadowed by the desire to demonstrate value, sometimes resulting in over-servicing clients.

While building rapport and fostering long-term client relationships are commendable goals, it’s imperative that our teams remain mindful of project scope boundaries.

If your agency employs tailored scope documents for different clients, it may indicate a strong commitment to scope management. Nevertheless, regardless of your scope management approach, the absence of tracking utilization, efficiency, and profitability at the client level can leave you operating without essential insights.

Securing scope approval in contracts, SOWs, or MSAs is just the beginning. It’s essential to maintain diligence regarding what falls within scope and what doesn’t. Establishing dedicated processes to monitor scope and implementing appropriate change orders and management techniques are crucial for maintaining budget adherence in a professional manner.

4. Be Invested

We often express enthusiasm and dedication to every client who walks through our doors and chooses to partner with us—those whom we also choose to collaborate with. Yet, throughout my career, I’ve encountered various peculiar situations.

Without casting judgment, I must admit that not every member of my team has been fully engaged or committed to every client relationship. It’s natural; some clients belong to industries that aren’t particularly glamorous.

Some clients are challenging to connect with on a personal level. Others may not demonstrate much investment in the work themselves. Then there are those who aren’t the most pleasant to interact with, and for various reasons, parting ways with them isn’t feasible at the moment.

Regardless of the circumstances, it becomes evident when we lack genuine investment in a client. Perhaps they showed disinterest first, or maybe we did. They might even be quietly withdrawing from our partnership.

In any case, it’s imperative that we demonstrate our dedication not only to the day-to-day tasks but also to being proactive, problem-solving, idea-generating, and effective communicators as integral members of their team. We must reaffirm our commitment and exert every effort to be fully invested in nurturing the relationship.

5. Share Your Expectations

Understanding and effectively managing client expectations lies at the heart of the agency-client relationship, a principle that has been emphasized time and again, and will continue to be a cornerstone.

However, expectations are not unidirectional; they operate as a two-way street. We strive to comprehend our clients’ expectations and work collaboratively to shape them into realistic benchmarks, considering the project’s scope, our expertise, and the scale of services we provide.

Yet, what if we were transparent about our expectations of our clients as well? Admittedly, it’s not a flawless process, as the paying party naturally desires to feel prioritized and to have their expectations fulfilled.

Reflecting on some of the significant hurdles my team has encountered, many stem from instances where a client has failed to follow through promptly on assets, approvals, deliverables, or necessary steps.

Have we effectively communicated our expectations regarding what we anticipate from the client? Have they been made aware of the repercussions of failing to meet these expectations?

Whether through a balanced mutual agreement, a manifesto, a bill of rights, or another tool for setting expectations, I firmly believe that agencies, including mine, should improve in articulating our expectations while simultaneously endeavoring to grasp, manage, and align with those of our clients.

6. Be Patient, Yet Expect Accountability

This task can be quite challenging – at times, exceptionally so.

Accepting accountability can feel daunting, especially for agencies. Typically, we lack control over client branding decisions, sales teams, final marketing approvals, product roadmaps, or financial performance.

While we may receive transparent ROI calculations, access to CRM data, and perhaps a seat at the marketing table, the crux of the matter lies in the challenge of accountability. When we lack complete control, it becomes difficult to fully own the outcomes and actions. In relationships where digital agency accountability is limited, it’s easy to remain on the periphery, focusing solely on search or marketing efforts. This often means operating from an external perspective or several layers removed from the core decision-making processes.

We can provide reports on marketing metrics and KPIs and engage in collaboration, but ultimately, it’s the client who evaluates the ROI of our efforts and connects all the dots.

However, to delve deeply enough to fully demonstrate our ROI, we may find ourselves at odds with or disliking the decisions being made, yet still having to accept a level of accountability that may not seem entirely fair to us.

In every scenario, we must strike a balance between exercising patience as we strive to establish thorough connections with our clients and avoiding pushing too forcefully or encountering barriers to accessing crucial information.

7. Provide A Clear Escalation Path

In the business realm, most individuals prioritize maintaining a respectful and professional demeanor, aiming to uphold positive reputations.

This fosters amicable relationships and often cultivates strong camaraderie between individuals representing both the client and agency.

Nevertheless, when the agency’s day-to-day representative is closely involved in the work or maintains frequent contact with the client, it’s probable that the client contact may feel hesitant to offer negative feedback.

Feedback serves as a valuable tool, enabling minor adjustments to strategy, communication, or other aspects of a relationship when received early and frequently. However, if individuals are unsure where to provide objective feedback or feel they cannot do so without causing offense or confrontation, it poses a significant challenge.

I previously mentioned the concept of “quiet quitting.” Over the past couple of years, I’ve observed numerous instances of clients quietly disengaging from agency relationships. While I can’t assert that having an escalation path is the sole determinant, I highly recommend establishing clear and comfortable avenues for clients to offer direct, anonymous, or feedback to others in the hierarchy. This approach ensures that feedback is handled professionally, encouraging clients to express their thoughts openly without hesitation.

8. Celebrate

This aspect of agency relationships is often underestimated. It can be tempting to keep clients at a distance or assume they’re celebrating their victories independently of yours.

However, if their successes are linked to opportunities for your agency, it’s crucial to embrace them!

Quality agencies prioritize their clients’ success. When companies perceive their agency as a partner rather than just a vendor, mutual celebration becomes natural.

In a close partnership, openly share your achievements with the client and encourage them to do the same. Collaborate on sharing data and reasons for celebration.

Given my experience in this field over the years, I understand our community well. We’re the type of agency folks who excel at celebrating victories and reveling in good news.

When we actively foster a culture of sharing wins with our clients, it creates a seamless unity. We become not just separate entities but one cohesive team.

While it might seem trivial, especially in the post-COVID era and amidst widespread burnout, celebrating successes holds significant importance.

Have Honest, Clear, and Difficult Conversations Earlier

While some of my points may come across as tough love, it’s essential to recognize that neither I nor my team are flawless.

Everything I’ve discussed reflects my beliefs and what I’m committed to being held accountable for.

From setting clear expectations to ensuring a mutual fit between client and agency, from welcoming honest feedback to managing scope effectively, there are numerous strategies to enhance the client experience and foster smooth relationships. I encourage you to experiment with these approaches and observe how they enhance retention, performance, and efficiency within your agency.

Original news from SearchEngineJournal