Business development is often looked at as the acquisition of new clients.
However, an agency’s 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.
Good client service is simply good business. Satisfied clients stick with an agency longer and request more and more support.
What do agencies need to do to enjoy greater success based on how they support their existing clients?
Good Client Service is Good Business
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. And, of course, keeping current clients is much less risky and expensive than pitching new business.
Current satisfied clients are often an excellent source of organic growth. And investing in current clients is much less expensive than prospecting for new clients. Your senior team must spend focused effort on 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.
Word of mouth is the most cost-effective new business driver your agency can benefit from. Happy, loyal clients are the best (and most likely) referrals. And the referrals from your satisfied clients are the best prospects.
It’s also important to remember that your current clients are providing you with great opportunities to demonstrate your capabilities. Share the successful work your agency has done in the form of case studies. Your current client successes provide wonderful stories that help market your firm.
Listen & Respond
Listen & Ask Questions
You can learn a lot by actively listening to your clients and embracing 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. It is the job of the agency to be intimately involved with the business of the client and to truly be marketplace experts. Bring a point of view to the table!
A smart agency creates an environment where the client comes to them as the marketplace expert and bonds their insights seamlessly with the client’s data sources. Proactive agencies go further in adding value by suggesting the 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. Great agencies remember that successful work is the most important thing and leave their egos and 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 the 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 agencies and their clients 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
Clients value stable, consistent agency teams supporting their business. 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, it is the agency’s responsibility for it to be seamless. Keep as much of the team in place as possible (especially the day-to-day contact) and plan personnel changes with deliberate, planned change management efforts. This seamless approach to service is important for consistency and balance. How the agency and client maintain consistency during times of change can be the difference between success and failure.
Trust & Collaboration
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, respect their knowledge and point of view and meet their needs. Don’t just minimally meet expectations; strive to exceed client expectations.
A Playbook for Developing Long term Relationships
The impact of solid client/agency partnerships is more valuable today 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. Happy clients are profitable clients.
Here are three specific actions that agency (& client) leaders can take that will contribute to a culture of putting your current partners first:
Set clear expectations: Senior leaders should clearly and consistently clarify the expectations they have for how their people and teams treat each other and their partners. They don’t have to agree with every decision, but they must support decisions once they are made. And they need to hear the concerns of their partners and address those concerns.
Provide routine feedback: Senior leaders need to clearly address positive and negative behaviors when they observe them or hear about them. Lionize the good stuff! Address the bad stuff! Actively coach and mentor.
Institutionalize good partnering: Good partnering should be an expectation and great leaders need to measure it both day-to-day as well as overtime. On a daily basis, it is important for marketers to be trained in delivering immediate and effective feedback. On a longer-term basis, senior leaders also need to:
- Internally, assure that the personnel review process includes peer input regarding teamwork
- Externally, make sure your agency relationships have a 360, bi-directional feedback process
None of this is all that hard if you make it a priority. And, these processes need to be a priority because it’s impossible to maintain and grow effective long-term relationships without clear expectations, strong communications and feedback and a commitment to being a good partner.
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.