Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Should an agency be judged on more than just their results?

New business at a marketing agency can be a funny business sometimes. Part of my pitch always focuses on results as that’s primarily what any business that employs an agency like ours is looking for. But in order to get results, a good working partnership needs to be established. A great client/agency relationship leads to better insight, understanding and most importantly trust.

A call from the senior salesperson at the online marketing agency we use (and that’s quite a unique relationship, an agency using an agency) prompted this particular blog. The salesperson in question asked me to act as a reference site for a new prospect. “It’s all about conversions” he told me. “If you can focus in on that, it should clinch the deal for us”. Now I had no problem at all acting as a reference site or indeed talking to his prospective client about the excellent results they have delivered for us but personally, I rank the relationship I have with our agency as highly as I do the results.

Which led me to the question, if I didn’t get on as well with the staff who work on our account and if they didn’t have a really good understanding of our business, would we still see the results we do?

Well of course the answer is no (I’d be contradicting myself a little if it was yes!) But that led to another question… If we were getting results but they were a pain to work with, would I be looking elsewhere for another agency? And the answer to that question is probably yes. No one wants to work with an agency or indeed an individual with whom they don’t have a good relationship.

If though, the results are good and you feel you get value for money then small misdemeanours can be over-looked sometimes. Everyone makes mistakes from time to time but in my experience, it’s how you go about fixing those mistakes that really counts. If done well there is no need for a relationship to suffer and often it can become stronger as a result.

So next time you’re on the hunt for a new agency or a new business manager (like me!) is pitching to you, take a second to look beyond all the ROI metrics and ask yourself the question – “do I like this person and can I work with them?” Hopefully, if it is me in front of you, the answer will be yes!

As always, what do you think? Is it all about getting bangs for your bucks or should a good working relationship be as, if not more, important?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Are Your Messages Getting Through?

Successful relationships are surely the key to life – whether they are family; friends; business or social they are, essentially, what can separate us from the animal kingdom… Our ability to communicate across multi channel media with any of ‘our circle’ enables us to engage appropriately at any time.

We recognise and differentiate the channels depending on the message and the recipient – whether we are texting our kids; phoning our parents; writing to the bank; or emailing a friend; we often subconsciously select the right channel for the best and most certain response… But, do we do the same in business or does cost and ‘efficiency’ override our inherent knowledge that what’s right and appropriate for one recipient is inappropriate for another?

Surely we cannot dispense with years of learning to jump onto the next comm’s bandwagon? As I write today – social networking is the fad. I am old enough to remember direct mail, and then the telephone, before email became all the rage. At each stage of communication evolution we leapt fully into the new world and dispensed with the old. What happened? In the main – very little! Lots of money was invested in making calls and sending emails to attract new business – sometimes with calculable evidence of a required ROI; however, rarely was the leaky bucket of customer attrition addressed and so real growth was not achieved.

Understanding customers, developing relationships and building loyalty will; surely remain the key to successful business and growth. Partnering with the right specialists can help reduce investment, and - will most certainly add value - as you benefit from a range of experience and not just your own.

So before embarking on Twitter and Facebook; before you purchase another batch of data to fire off some more emails; why not stop and take stock…?

• What can your current customer data tell you?
• How can it help inform your future strategy?
• Where does your profit come from rather than just your revenue?
• Which customers are more likely to lapse and which should you endeavour to keep?
• How and why do they like to be communicated with?

In summary - the right partner can help with these questions and make your business grow healthily and less expensively because they use the knowledge locked within your data to expose the communication opportunities of the future. Sometimes the answers are right under your nose!

Thursday, 3 June 2010

What are the factors behind a good client/agency relationship?

What are the main elements that go to making a good, long term client/agency relationship? Tough question isn’t it? Cultural match, ROI, outstanding creativity, awards even perhaps… all have their place but sometimes it can be a little more intangible than that.

I was presenting to a prospective new client recently and was asked how long on average our clients had been with us. In our case it’s around 5 or 6 years which I think is pretty darn good for a CRM agency such as ourselves (we currently have clients that have been with us for as long as 15 years). But the question got me thinking, why do our clients remain so loyal to us and why have we been successful in developing their accounts? Well I’m not about to reveal our secrets or bore you to death with a diatribe on our approach to Account Management. What I will do though, is tell you what factors I believe make a good client/agency relationship and some of the things to look for if you are searching for a new partner.

Trust – The foundation upon which any good relationship is built and by far the most important factor in forming a long-term, mutually beneficial partnership. If there is no trust between a client and their marketing agency every project, idea, suggestion or piece of work will be second guessed or viewed with suspicion. A client has to believe and trust that their agency has their best interests (and those of their brand) at heart in order to produce the best results.

Cultural Match – Without exception, every business has a distinct identity, a culture and a work ethic. If the relationship is to be successful it’s important that the business finds an agency whose culture mirrors or complements their own. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be differences as often the best work or campaign can be produced when ideas and the established status quo are challenged by both parties.

Personalities – Never underestimate the importance of matching account management staff with the client, if the two get on both on a professional and personal level then the relationship will undoubtedly flourish. Get it wrong and the exact opposite will happen, trust won’t be established and creativity will be stifled.

Honesty – We all get things wrong from time to time but if your agency is honest enough to own up to mistakes and they go the extra mile to put them right, then that can only be a good thing. Honesty is also important when it comes to communication and feedback which leads me to my next point…

Communication – Open and honest communication, particularly feedback is essential in the client/agency relationship. As a CRM agency, feedback whether positive or constructive (no one likes negative!) is invaluable if we are to continue to innovate and drive the client’s communication strategy forward. We do our upmost to ensure that the key stakeholders on any project are talking all the time and that any little ripples are ironed out along the way.

Value for Money – A topic that can be highly subjective to say the least! An agency and their client may well disagree on what constitutes value for money but what can’t be disputed is the more accurate measurement of Return on Investment (ROI). As an agency, ROI is all important and if we’re to retain our clients then we must be able to accurately measure and demonstrate ROI. That is why each programme we implement has metrics built in whether it’s establishing control groups to measure the impact of an eCRM campaign or KPIs for contact centre performance.

And finally…

Shared Objectives – We’re all in business to make money (well most of us are anyway). If we’re honest about this and don’t try to screw every little last piece of discount or margin from each and every deal then the trust and relationship that we worked so hard to establish won’t be affected. By all means challenge your agency to justify their charges (and hopefully they’ll be honest about them) but don’t be surprised if the quality of work begins to slide if you’ve beaten them down to a rock-bottom price. Likewise from an agency perspective, if a client gets even the slightest whiff that they’re being taken for a ride, they won’t be a client for much longer.

In Summary

So there we have it, what I believe to be seven important elements that go together in making the foundation of a solid client agency relationship. Clearly the list is not exhaustive and there are many other less fundamental factors which cumulatively can have a dramatic effect. But what do you think - are there any other major factors I have missed, would you like to challenge any of the statements I have made? All feedback (well most!) will be gratefully received.