We all do it. We all bend over backward to make sure our clients are happy. The little favors, all the things that we do that are out of scope.
But with the pandemic and the resulting drop in revenue and new business, those favors really seem to sting, especially when we remember how we over-serviced clients during the good times.
We all want to be partners with our clients, not vendors. But we often don't have the level of true partnership with our clients that we should. These times will test us, and right now, building that partnership is our highest priority.
Our counsel to agency clients is to "manifest partnership" and it's something that must be practiced every day. The pandemic only elevates this as a priority. You have an even greater obligation to your client, and your agency, to invest in the relationship when budgets are reduced or suspended.
Your ideas, your experience, your counsel, and your time all have value. But traditionally, over-servicing begets more over-servicing, because the client begins to expect it.
Times may be different, but the principles of effective organic growth haven't changed and one of the fundamental principles is getting paid properly for the work that you do.
Understandably, this isn't the best time to press your clients to compensate you for past incidents of over-service. But you owe it to yourself, your account teams, and the client, to at least be clear in setting expectations and managing that over-service.
And an offer to over-service the client now -- with the understanding it's in the spirit of partnership -- may actually strengthen the relationship and ignite new opportunities.
Our industry is recalibrating for the future and how client relationships may evolve. And yes, there are agencies out there that have won new business in the last 60 days.
But whether it's net-new or reigniting an existing relationship, now is the time to position yourself for organic growth. In fact, it is never too early nor is it ever too late. Here are five things to consider:
Assess the relationship. Have an honest and open conversation about your performance. Where is your agency succeeding and failing? This will chart a path forward.
Also, be sure to talk about money. Too many agencies are afraid to have direct conversations with their clients about money, especially now. Get over it.
You have a business to run. Your clients need to understand this as clearly as you need to understand their business objectives. True partners recognize the investments and compromises each other makes. That's how you form a successful relationship.
Strengthen the ties that bind. Most clients have more than one agency. Convene a Zoom. Get to know the other agencies and discuss how you all can better serve your shared client. New things will emerge, and your client will recognize that you took this important step to help their business.
Garbage in, garbage out. Most agencies are paid for about 75% of the work they do. Gather your account teams — include everyone — and list everything you do for that client. Dig in and be specific.
You must demand transparency from everyone with no judgment. Highlight everything that you get paid for. Then, meet with the client and review the work you are not typically paid for, but that the client has come to expect. The likelihood is that you will cut the over-servicing altogether or set new terms with your client.
Start making calls. Now is the time to form relationships with CMOs and the other client-side leaders you don't typically interact with. If you're an agency CEO and you are not speaking to your clients on a regular basis, start now. Exemplify that partnership by working to discover their strategic imperatives whether it's your job or not.
Account plan. Agencies create plans for some clients, but are you creating account plans for all your clients? With the information acquired in the steps listed above, you can map a future for every client.
You now know what is in your control and what is not, who manages budgets, who determines priorities and more, all of which can identify the barriers to growth. And once you have identified those barriers, you can identify the paths to new organic growth.
J. Mark Riggs is the CEO and founder and Britt Carter is the president of TPC Growth.