Some clients are better than others. Like a good boss, people will work hard for an amazing client. It’s Amazing Client that the team will think about on the way home, which springs to mind when an opp comes in, and for whom the team will happily stay late when the chips are down. In short, Amazing Client gets great value.
So it always amazes me when clients don’t go out of their way to make the relationship work and get to the coveted position of ‘fave client’. Even out of pure self-interest, it makes sense. But then it struck me – perhaps some companies simply aren’t aware this is important or don’t know how to be the number one client. So let’s fix that right now.
1. Understand that agencies are businesses too
A good place to start is to recognize that agencies are businesses too. They are entrepreneurial, ambitious, staffed with talented, career-oriented people, just like your startup. Granted it’s a different business model – but it’s still packed with risk and rewards, competitors, innovation and company milestones.
So take an interest in how your agency is doing. Are they growing? Who have they hired? What new services are they rolling out? How can you help them with their mission? Lifting your eyes beyond the scope of work to take an interest in the business says that you care about the agency team and their careers. And the agency will love you for it.
2. Always give the benefit of the doubt
The worst clients don’t trust their agency’s intentions or actions, and never give them the benefit of the doubt if things don’t pan out. Responsibility is part of the agency’s remit, and there are times when it will need to own its mistakes. But in most instances, campaigns are implemented in close collaboration so it’s dispiriting to get hauled over the coals for mutual missteps.
By contrast, your agency will love you if you stand up and defend them when necessary. If it’s not their fault, have the courage to say so. Sometimes that can be painful but it’s right. Your manager would do it for you, and the same is true here for the client-agency relationship.
Things will go awry, and a good default is to always give the benefit of the doubt and move on. That’s not the same as a lack of accountability, but a generosity of spirit is usually repaid.
3. Say thanks
It’s free. Also food is always appreciated as anyone who has seen the agency locusts descend. Honestly, you’d think they never get fed. Also beer and wine please.
4. Provide feedback and ask for it
Taking a leaf from continuous appraisals, provide feedback about what is working and what isn’t. Agency staff spend cycles second-guessing what is going through your brain, where they stand and what they could do better. They’re insecure like that. So it feels much better if you just tell them – even if it’s bad news, they’d rather know. Agency people are tough and it’s likely they have faced similar situations so give them feedback to fine-tune the relationship. Then you get what you want and they get a good night’s sleep.
5. Listen to their advice
You don’t have to follow it religiously but do listen to the agency’s advice. This is what they do, every day. We’re all fallible but a good firm is often right. And even when you take a different path, that’s fine, they’ll still appreciate the chance to be heard.
By contrast, clients who never listen and keep tripping over themselves or burning cycles needlessly soon get perfunctory counsel since they won’t listen anyway. You’ve read all those management books about encouraging team proactivity – same applies here.
6. Give them referrals
Nothing says ‘I love you’ more than a referral. Conversion of warm leads to clients is extremely high and those engagements tend to be successful since there’s a commonality in approach. Plus it helps the agency grow, which adds new services, which helps you. Karma.
7. Make sure your expectations are reasonable
That doesn’t mean low-ball them, just be realistic.
8. Execute, execute, execute
Agencies need results (and so do you). So set a plan and then focus on making it happen. The best clients don’t let their agencies get sidetracked into dead-end activities for peripheral stakeholders or other busywork. They shield them from all the internal politics and sausage-making so they can get on with the work at hand. That leads to results, which makes everyone happy.
By contrast the team which ends up doing lots of work which later gets shelved (delayed product launches, abandoned messaging etc) can end up at the review with little tangible to show. You’ll know they bust their ass on the program, but that doesn’t sit well with the board. Again, expect the agency to keep the program on track but remember you are the client so they need your help.
Of course there are many other factors which go into being an amazing client, but if you follow these eight rules, you’ll be way ahead of the pack. And you’ll get some great service and results in return.
Morgan McLintic is the founder of Firebrand. With over 25 years’ experience in the tech sector, he advises clients about their marketing and PR strategy. Prior to Firebrand, he was the founder of digital communications agency, LEWIS in the US, growing it to 250 staff and $35m revenue.