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What we control, we manage. The rest is in the hands of the gods.
There are many reasons agencies and clients part ways. Fundamentally, it boils down to what we can control and what we can’t.
This relationship can be strong from the outset, or take time to mature. Each client and agency relationship is different and it is important to understand the key foundations which can influence both the breakdown and strengthening of this unique relationship.
So, this is a short look at what both an agency and client can do to make a relationship work and ultimately, produce great results,
As the old saying goes, people buy people, however this may only get you so far. There has to be a good equal balance of power and control within any good relationship.
Factors out of your control
There are a few occasions where the agency may simply have no influence on retaining a client. Although no one wants to be in this situation, there is not always a solution or reason within your control.
The client has no budget
This may be due to cutbacks or a company shift. The unfortunate situation here is the client can no longer afford your services, and as much as you might want to keep hold of that client, reducing your price just to fit in with them is never a good idea.
The client’s needs change
Although this doesn’t always lead to losing a client, in some instances it can do. Where a client sees a certain amount of growth, they make start hiring a team with skills which overlap with the agency, their situation may change from needing an agency for resource, time and expertise, to bringing these things in-house. Budgets are therefore invested into salaries rather than outsourcing.
Company infrastructure changes
Often politics within a business can be the biggest hurdle. A new CEO being appointed or a new head of marketing may come in and ruffle some feathers, make change for changes sake, or bring in agencies they have previously worked with. In some cases there is very little you can do about this situation.
But, there can often be situations which agencies can try and address before they become a reason for a client to move on.
Reasons within your control
The agency is too slow to respond
This comes down to expectations. From the offset of the relationship there should be clear expectations set on response times, turnaround times and the process of how the client agency partnership will work. By explaining to the client what is involved in the task, they can realise why things may take longer than first thought. Only by discussion and clear communication can this be controlled.
Agency is not being proactive
All too often agencies are doing the work behind the scenes but perhaps not communicating with the client what is going on, or that we need to walk before we can run! This leads to frustration from the client, no communication or no update equals the client thinking that nothing is being done. Ensure regular updates or calls are in place to touch base on the day to day running of the account as well as future plans so the client knows their agency has everything under control and is striving for continued improvement.
Lack of trust
Trust with anyone has to be gained. You can’t just meet one day and fully trust someone new. By demonstrating to the client that your recommendations are having the predicted impact, trust starts to grow. Using market knowledge to reassure the client is a great way to build up trust. Alongside this, being open with the good and the bad news of an account shows you are not hiding behind anything. Being open with a client can also build trust.
Lack of confidence in the strategy
There are not many clients you come across who think they know best, but there are some. This can be a tricky situation and lead to agency frustrations when you feel your years of expertise and skills are being ignored. Sometimes it is a good idea to take a step back and ask the question…why is the client suggesting this? What is the likely outcome of their recommendation? Usually there is a more political answer than you think. E.g. pressures on them from their managers, lack of trust in your recommendations (see point 3), lack of proactivity etc.. again it comes back to building trust via knowledge and prediction.
“If we implement your suggestion we will likely see a,b,c, if our goal is x,y,z, then we strongly feel that our approach is going to achieve that.” If they are really stuck then you can try testing their idea on a small project, and testing your ideas. The results will speak for themselves.
Client doesn’t see the value
– this has two points.
a) you are not adding any value, if not why not?
b) you are adding value but not demonstrating that to the client.
Value = meeting the clients needs. If that means saving them time, that should be communicated, if it means reducing cost whilst driving similar results then that should be communicated. It may be a simple as showing them the data and educating them to be able to report internally. There shouldn’t be an excuse for not meeting this. We all know campaigns don’t always run as you expect, results can be up and down, but this would be the case if the client were running it themselves or with another agency. The value in those cases is you are on it, reviewing and analysing to make things improve.
Agency and client relationship is weak
You don’t always have to be best buddies, in some case that doesn’t help the relationship. But there should be an understanding. An agency isn’t a slave, we are not there to be bossed around. We should be a valuable asset to that client and their business. Sometimes people just don’t get along, they disagree, their personalities don’t mix well. Sometimes in business this is fine and works as long as the business strategy and process works to fulfill the client and agency needs and results.
Client moves to another agency
Normally when a client moves to a new agency, it has been a methodical decision for a period of time. It isn’t an overnight decision. When this happens it is all too often down to two things, a) a lack of communication or b) a lack of results, both have been mentioned above.
Sometimes clients don’t read emails, but when you explain things on a call they understand. Sometimes clients need written confirmation to refer back to. Some like lots of process and detail, others like top level and simple updates. You need to figure out what type of client each of yours is and slightly adapt to ensure they are managed in the most effective way for your agency.
Client offers a repitch to you and two other agencies
This is similar to point 7, however sometimes it is a company policy to go to tender each year. If this is the case, you have the best insight to that client, you understand them, their needs, their quirks, the strengths, the weaknesses – you should win the pitch! If you don’t then it may be an excuse that they have to go to tender. It is possible they are looking at an elegant way out due to any number of points above.
Client doesn’t know how the account is performing
The only forgivable reason for this is that the client is a nightmare. Some occasionally just don’t listen, don’t read their emails, don’t look at the reports, don’t hear what you are trying in multiple ways to communicate and tap into their way of working. If this is the case, the only real option if you have tried everything is to get other members of the company onboard. The more internal connections you have buying into you and your agency, the stronger the relationship. Hopefully those individuals support you internally.
Client is tracking things their end and this is not matching up your end
This is simple – you have not asked them the right questions. You need to really understand both sides of the coin here. Your data may be showing positive leads or sales data, but if that is not translating to actual sales at the client side the account will be perceived from the client as not working. The only way to know if all the hard work you are doing is paying off is to ask them! We are seeing this data from our side, is that matching your sales data? What percentage of leads are converting to sales, is this up or down on the average? Questions, questions, questions. Only by doing this, and asking regularly, will you really know if the performance is leading to results.
Client is not reading your reports
When was the last time you asked the client about the report you send every week? The time and effort put into preparing and analysing just to fall on deaf ears. Ask the question. Do you read the weekly report? Is it showing you relevant data that you use? What do you use the report for? Does it feed into your internal reporting? Is there a better format or way to view the data? If you didn’t receive it would you miss it? If more time was spent optimising your account than reporting would that be of more value to you? Try asking the questions.
Agency doesn’t know how the client feels the account is going
Similar vein to the point above, unless you ask the question, sometimes you won’t know the answer. Unless you ask your client how they feel the account is going, if they feel they are getting what they need or want, you might not realise there is an issue until it is too late. Ask them, they will appreciate it and so will you. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it is broken.
Agency gets complacent
Sometimes if you have run an account for years, and the relationship is comfortable, the results are good, it is easy to let pro-activity and drive slip. This can sometimes be very difficult because you have spent years improving, optimising, reviewing and testing, and things have got a bit dry! A good tip can be to mix up the account managers. Get someone working on another account to audit or review the account. Put yourself in the position that you were pitching for the account (before you might have to again!) Where are the gaps? Don’t just think because a client didn’t used to want to try things that they never will. Always bring new ideas to the table, if they keep saying no, understand why that might be rather than hitting a hard stop. Keeping it fresh can be hard, but this is the key to client longevity.
Client is not willing to implement recommendations
We have all been there, full of enthusiasm and great ideas and solutions to problems but the IT team say no, or the directors say no, or it simply can’t be implemented due to resource. Often this can be very frustrating, you feel like you are getting nowhere fast and even worse the account is suffering because of a lack of client implementation. Where do you go from here? Break it down bit by bit and try to understand each little barrier, if you can combat even just a few of those, you may be onto a win. If you can go deeper and find out the fundamental reason things cannot be implemented you might be surprised, technology restrictions, internal lack of resource, lack of understanding from the client of the importance of the task, low priority etc.. Then you might be able to address how to tackle these challenges.
Client isn’t getting back to you
This can be so annoying. You try calling, emailing, but nothing! Some clients can be very illusive and it is your job to pin them down for 5 minutes.
Understand their timings, and the way they work is crucial. Ask others within the organisation, are they early in the office or working late in the evening. It may be best to arrange a call very early morning when they are in the office without any distractions. It might be you turn up at their offices when you know they are due to be in that day, arrange a meeting with another member of the business and try and pinch 5 minutes whilst you are there. Do what you must to get on the radar, it is important for all the reasons discussed above. In this instance, we need to sell the value of time to the client.
Many of the points listed above can be adjusted by small incremental changes. The first thing to address is being aware of the problems in the first place, understand why they are occurring and then implement a clear path to addressing them head on.
As an agency you can’t always win but you will define how you work with your clients to make the best of every relationship and opportunity.