Business development is often looked at as the acquisition of new clients. However, the most important clients are the ones you already serve. Agencies should focus, now more than ever, on creating a relationship and experience that places their current clients as the highest priority.
Current Clients Come First
We can’t stress enough the importance of investing in your current clients. They are the heart of your business. They are the best source of stability and future revenue.
Longevity = Value
Long-term relationships between clients and agencies pay off. All of the learning, the mistakes, the successes, and the disagreements that occur through long-term partnerships create strength and valuable context. The best work often comes from a close, long-term relationship. Not to mention, keeping current clients is much less risky and expensive than pitching new business.
Current satisfied clients are often an excellent source of organic growth. Your senior team must spend much more time ensuring existing clients are satisfied. This, along with training and quality performance, can be one of the best investments you can make in achieving your annual growth plans. And don’t forget, investing in current clients is much less expensive than prospecting for new clients.
Word of mouth is the most cost-effective new business marketing your agency will benefit from. Happy, loyal clients are the best (and most likely) referrals. And referees from your satisfied clients are much better prospects.
It’s also important to remember that your current clients are providing you with great opportunities to demonstrate your capabilities. Don’t forget to share successful work your agency has done, in the form of case studies. Your current client wins are great for marketing your firm.
Their Business Issues are Your Business Issues
Listen & Ask Questions
You can learn a lot by actively listening to your client and what they are currently going through. Give your clients a call to check-in. Listen, empathize and ask thoughtful questions. Don’t immediately pivot to new solutions (you don’t want to come across as upselling them). Instead, make sure you respond appropriately and fully addresses their concerns and needs mentioned.
Agencies are hired to add value as a partner to the client. Thus, the agency has a contractual obligation to bring a point of view to the table. It is the job of the agency to be intimately involved with the business of the client and to truly be marketplace experts. A smart agency makes the client come to them as the marketplace expert and bonds their insights seamlessly with the client’s data sources. Proactive agencies move even further forward in adding value by suggesting improvement and expansion of successful areas and offering recommendations on ways to shore up weaknesses. The goal is not just to keep the client happy but to move the business forward. Best agencies remember that the work is the most important thing and leave their self-interest at the door.
Focus on the Relationship
Be a Great Partner
The advertising business is a people business. Partnership and respect between a client and its advertising agency is at the crux of that highly volatile and emotionally charged relationship. Old-fashioned etiquette goes a long way.
Smart clients and agencies keep communication lines open and clear while working constantly and consistently to keep the relationship on track. Strong partnerships between clients and their agencies will produce the best work and lead to better business results. Longevity in client/agency relationships is also a key to solid advertising results and is key to agency health and success.
Manage for Consistency
To avoid doubt and insecurity, a client’s longevity with a good agency team is ideal. While it is best if people on the teams do not change, change does have a role and is inevitable at times. If changes are necessary at this time of uncertainty, keeping as much of the team in place as possible (especially the day-to-day contact) is important for consistency and balance. How the client and agency maintain consistency during times of change can be the difference between success and failure.
Trust & Collaboration
A best agency practice is to build mutual trust. While an agency would like to have their client respect their expertise, the agency must conversely be committed to respecting the expertise of their client. To build mutual trust an agency must be willing to collaborate with their client partners and must not just minimally meet expectations but should always strive to exceed client expectations.
As pressures increase for both companies and agencies, the impact of solid client/agency partnerships is perhaps more valuable than ever before. Continue to put your current clients first, understand their business issues and focus on the relationship. These key areas will keep them loyal and ultimately improve your ability to better meet their needs. And happy clients are profitable clients.
Lindsay O’Neil, a Senior Consultant at Mercer Island Group, has participated in extensive research across all marketing practices including Media, Digital, PR, Advertising, and Social. She has led and participated in numerous agency searches for clients like Envestnet, Zillow, Barre3, TrueCar, Brooks Running and Hitachi Vantara. One of her key strengths as a consultant is her deep understanding of marketing strategy and agency new business development practices.