One of my pet peeves is the hiring practices of agencies — we need to stop hiring “nice”.

Earlier this month, we kicked off a conversation about why agencies find themselves relegated to vendor status. If you remember, we identified 3 causes.

  1. The economy — workforce reductions, budget cuts and overall fear (out of your control)
  2. Agencies willingness to behave like a vendor just to get the project (within your control)
  3. Agencies hiring “nice” account executives who are order takers rather than smart business people (within your control)

In this post, we’ll tackle the hiring “nice” issue that many agency owners and Directors of Client Services seem to struggle with.  Every agency owner worries about how solid their client relationships are and who is tending to those clients.  We want clients to feel like they’re the agency’s only focus.   As a result, we’ve often hired people who are relationship nurturers and good at customer service delivery.  There’s nothing wrong with those traits.  But they don’t match up with what clients tell us they want.

In our AE Bootcamp workshops, we teach AEs what their clients expect from them.  Here’s what our research revealed clients want in an AE:

  • Knows the client’s industry and markets
  • Makes their job easier
  • Is organized and dependable
  • Is empowered to make decisions
  • Demonstrates a passion for solving problems
  • Is willing to be treated as a consultant and a vendor
  • Is not learning on the job

I don’t see nice, friendly or even a good relationship builder on that list.  It doesn’t mean those traits don’t matter.  It means those traits are tables stakes — the givens.  Clients think of those as a “duh” not a point of difference.  What they’re telling us is — I want someone who thinks, behaves and works like my success is their priority.

Remember — many of our clients have watched their colleagues get downsized or have their budgets/projects slashed.  They want to look like a super star and they want incredibly smart people at their side, helping them get there.   Our job is to help them rock their job.  And nice by itself won’t cut it.  Keep in mind — our clients feel like they’re hanging out on a ledge…and are being asked to climb a very steep mountain.  The AE/agency that will earn their loyalty and faith is the AE who climbs alongside him/her and is constantly reaching out to pull them up to the next level.

So you need to be looking for someone who understands how business works, how to read financial documents, ask production and distribution questions along with being able to bond with your clients.  Is the relationship important?  Yes…but only if the AE can also make the client a superstar.

Tough to find?  Maybe.  But it’s easier to find good AEs (or ones with good potential and train them to be good AEs) than it is to find good clients.

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