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.

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