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The lost art of client relationships

Client relationships are an art, because there’s no one-size-fits-all plan to close the deal and maintain the business. Our dynamic with clients has changed over the years, but our philosophies haven’t. Sure, our toolbox is more complicated and advanced, but we’re still advertisers creating brand stories that drive sales.

When my business partner, Paul, and I started this agency, it was just the two of us – answering phones, placing media, and pitching clients. Day in and day out. What I’ve heard from that first client and hear often, even today, is encouraging:

“Andrew, sometimes I feel like your only client.”

Clients should feel like the only one, even if it’s just in that moment. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast-paced campaign cycle, but sometimes a simple phone call makes a difference.

Time is a luxury

managing employee morale

It’s true, if there’s one thing I hear often or see in the hustle of footsteps down the hall – we’re all very busy. Our days are filled with meetings (and meetings about meetings) and to-do lists filled with tasks necessary for success, but… taking a step back to consider one client’s needs at a time can fix or avoid issues. You’d be surprised how much gets lost in translation in our 140-character-world.

Pick up the phone. Yes, that dark grey appliance with the buttons, handset, and cord. Dust it off and dial your client (their phone number is probably in their signature). I like calling clients often, just to see how they’re feeling. A simple phone call can go a long way, a crisis can even be avoided by letting someone vent or by listening to feedback. It’s these small frictions, the ones that don’t elicit a complaint by email or merit a meeting, that live in-between the lines.

Just hearing someone out or being a sounding board can make the difference in their mood, perception, and (most importantly) your own performance. Running an account like a well-oiled machine is great, but sometimes you’ve got to clean, oil and polish a cog in the wheel to keep productivity up. Busy is a constant, so dust off that telephone and start dialing.

The truth about trust

67% of marketers look for trust in agency partners, but only 15% say their agencies fully deliver. Why are we settling for less? There’s enough fraud in marketing without us adding to that.

Another aspect of relationship building that we try to integrate into everything we do is trust. Everyone around the table should share trust in the work being done. That doesn’t always mean we agree on everything either.

I don’t ever want to be a Yes-Man, I want to be a trusted partner. To do that, I must be able to confidently push back on what we believe to be true. Each stakeholder is looking at a different bottom line, but my job is to make sure we all win. When everyone has their eye on a different ball, it’s easy for us to bump heads – that’s why trust is key. If we’re honest from the beginning, then expectations will be set and we can all work towards the same goal (even if that goal looks different to each person).

Proof’s in the pudding

successful client relationship

While we work towards a relationship based on transparent and honest communication, we both need to understand why we’re here. An agency is sought out because there’s a marketing need, pain points with current partners, or just searching for better solutions. The agency is providing their expertise and bandwidth that doesn’t exist within the client’s organization. From the first negotiation, there’s an understanding of what each party needs to provide for everyone’s success – payment for product, information for ideas, and access for insights.

There’s an exchange based on experience that comes from 18+ independent years in the biz. We don’t lean on technologies alone, we use them to make us better. That creates a confidence in our clients that can’t be accomplished with a phone call alone, no matter how honest it is.

That’s probably why we don’t have a revolving door of clients. Many of our past and current clients have been working with us for five, sometimes even ten years. They know our work ethic and our ability to provide results.

Strategic leadership is the top skill clients look for in a new agency. The idea is a management style that means you can adapt quickly and stay competitive. Clients want a partner who is never satisfied.

Advertising and marketing are constantly evolving and changing, so we all need to be on our toes. Anticipating the next move and deciphering the trends from the patterns.

Like I said, it’s an art form. Building a relationship with a client requires less finesse and more instinct. So, my recommendation is to listen more than you hear. Listening means communicating in a more clear and concise way, because everyone is busy. Maybe I don’t have time to block out a whole afternoon to have another meeting that could have been an email, but I can shave off 15 minutes to walk through a Creative Brief. Be virtuous and have a little patience, which can save you time and frustration in the long run.

  1. Source: Marketing Week Survey, 2016
  2. Source: Forrester/SoDA Q1 2016 Global Digital Outlook Online Survey