Client & Agency Harmony: Three things to test

Agency Management 101.

The greatest achievement any business can shoot for is longevity – and to achieve that you need to work with excellent, sustainable and profitable clients.

Despite what you might think, there are no “bad clients”, just poor relations. One man’s nightmare client is another’s dreamboat.

The agency world is full of horror stories about nightmare clients involving legal battles, bitterness, and even physical assault! If you took all these stories at face value you’d imagine the agency/client space was a dangerous, volatile and highly-charged environment. It doesn’t need to be.

When things go wrong between the agency and client it’s usually due to a poor fit; be that cultural, technical, communication or values. This may be a function of changing staff or environments but often as not it’s down to poor initial selection.

Getting off on the right foot

Knowing that not every client suits every agency sounds obvious enough, but it’s still surprising how many agencies chase business from clients that are wholly incompatible. Sometimes its clear right away that a mistake has been made, in others cases the relationship may limp along for months and even years before it splits, often acrimoniously.

To avoid falling into the usual courting mistakes with a potential client we apply a fairly standard set of cultural, technical and communication tests. It is designed to highlight the real “wrong ‘uns” in terms of fit – remembering that not all clients will suit our style and vice-versa.

  • Client business goals: We should be partnering with a business, not just taking revenue, and that means we need to buy-into their aims and goals.
  • Why us: We both need to understand why we are working together and what qualities we see in each other and what the client is looking for us to deliver. This covers technical, communication, intellectual value and responsibilities.
  • What is your budget and how do you allocate it: We have a sweet spot in terms of decision-making cycles and revenue from a relationship, too far away from this and incompatibilities and friction is likely to occur. Profit is the natural outcome of a good working relationship, not the other way round.

Often you can glean this information during the early courting phase and from spending time researching the client, but sometimes we just come out and ask the questions straight. No point beating around the bush, it saves everybody’s time and effort if it’s addressed early.

And, it’s important to keep re-applying the questions during the relationship as factors often change, staff move, service needs alter, and it’s important to a strong relationship that both companies stay in step, or least on the same page.