Five ways to improve the client-agency relationship
It may sound idealistic to expect a client-agency relationship to last forever, but every agency (and client) hopes for them to last at least long enough to make it worth the while for both parties.
Clients often choose their marketing agency based on the company being perceived as a good agency by other brands, but in order for a functional relationship to exist between the two parties, it is equally important that agencies assess whether they are taking on a ‘good client’ before either of them sign the dotted line. Here are five things to consider when you start to build a relationship with a new client:
1. Be on the same page from the get-go
The first and most important thing is that both parties are on the exact same page from the first meeting. Of course it will take some time to understand each other and the brand you’ll be working on, but make it clear in the first meeting how much the agency values a good relationship and how absolutely crucial that is for the success of the brand.
Agency: you’ll need commitment from the whole team, and an in-depth understanding of the brand and client expectations.
Client: make sure you understand exactly what the agency will be doing for you, what the timeline looks like, and why they have committed to working with you and your brand.
2. Trial and trust
The first few days and weeks are critical, and most of the time you’ll be able to establish in this period already whether and how the relationship will work. However, a trial period is always a good idea. It also removes a bit of the pressure to decide right at the beginning how long both parties want to commit for, which creates the opportunity for a more natural relationship to form.
A regular progress review or report is a simple way of making the trial period more valuable. Have monthly meetings to review the proposals and promises in the contract, so that expectations are managed and trust is built.
Agency: as soon as the contract is signed, the team needs to be on top of their game to prevent bad first impressions at all costs – this means attention to detail, not missing a phone call, quick email responses and making sure the client gets what you promised them and what they are paying for.
Client: as soon as you sign the contract, you need to put your trust in the agency to deliver on what they promised. Be involved, respond to emails and make an effort to follow progress so that you can loosen the reins once the trial period is over.
3. Communication and mutual understanding
These two go hand in hand – good communication should automatically lead to a mutual understanding. This can be tough in the early stages of a relationship as both parties are often hesitant to complain and raise concerns. Keep in mind that the agency as well as the client probably feel the same way, and ensure that you make the other party feel comfortable enough to contact you whenever before small concerns become big issues.
Another easy way to improve communication is to establish which communication tool to use that will work best for everyone. At YDC, we make use of shared Dropbox folders or Google Drive (whatever the client prefers). Create different folders to make it easy for both parties to share and review content and ideas. We also have a YDC cell phone, for clients to send through live updates and photos.
Agency: make it easy for the client to express concerns and ask questions, and agree on a suitable communication tool right from the beginning.
Client: make sure you work with someone from the agency who makes you feel comfortable enough to raise concerns and ask questions.
4. Partners not employees
This can probably pass as one of the primary requirements for effective client-agency relationships - good results are only possible when the focus is on forming a partnership rather than just sticking to a contract. For this to happen, it’s important that the team members that will work on the account are carefully selected. Explain to the client why those specific people have been chosen to work on their brand to reassure them, and to spark a good relationship.
Agency: put together a team that you know will enjoy working on that client in order for them to really become invested in the brand. Encourage the team to consider themselves as employees of the brand, rather than just the agency.
Client: make sure you are comfortable with the team that you’ll be working with. Also, try to not immediately blame the agency when you are disappointed with results – especially in the early stages. Great results are often a reflection of the client’s ability to make success possible.
5. Transparency and the extra mile
As with most things in life, transparency is super important, and it should be something that you’re comfortable with if a good relationship exists. This goes for the agency as well as the client. Whether the results are good or bad, rather acknowledge the situation and commit to improving it, instead of trying to cover it up before the other party notices.
Agency: show all your work in reports, never hide any errors, and make sure you always keep the client in the loop, even if you think it’s not something relevant.
Client: be transparent with the agency, and let them know about any changes in the company.
Lastly, it’s almost impossible to connect in a meaningful way when someone is just seen as a “position”. Put in some effort to get to know your client or your agency, and if you’re unsure, ask them how they prefer things to be done and their reasoning behind it. The solution to many possible big issues is usually just an email or a quick phone call away.
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