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Stalled Projects = Shrinking Profits

You know the drill. Client or prospect calls. They have an urgent need and you drop everything to figure out how to help them. About a third of the way in — when you need something (copy, assets, information, etc.) from them, suddenly there’s a grinding halt and you wait. And wait. It’s part of agency life. Unfortunately, so is that sucking sound you hear as the profits get drained from the project because of the delay. The longer you tread water, the more the work costs you and it’s difficult to recoup the expense of trying to cajole your client into giving you what you need. The delays aren’t always on the client. Sometimes an outside force creates the lag time. But either way — your agency ends up holding the bag. You can greatly reduce that drain on your profitability if you anticipate it up front and build a contingency into your scope documents/contracts. In another blog post, I shared some language you can use to protect yourself from these delays.  Feel free to use it verbatim or modify it to fit your agency’s voice. But don’t leave yourself more exposed than you need to be. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE Bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.

How to Get Paid When Clients Pull the Plug

It’s annoying and expensive when clients pull the plug on a project before you can recoup all of your upfront investment. And yet it happens all the time. So much of our work requires a huge investment on our part on the front end and when a client stalls or does a 360 and cancels the work — we often get left holding the bag. I wrote a blog post about this challenge and offered some language you can include in your contracts and/or scope of work documents that will help protect you from losing money in this situation. Check it out and let me know what you think. Our September AE bootcamp is getting pretty full. If you want to send some of your crew — it would be good to get them registered soon.

10 Tips for Planning Your 2018 and 2019 Agency New Business Activities

A finely tuned agency new business plan requires preparation and planning. Here are ten tips for planning a better, more successful agency new business effort: 1. Distinctly position your agency Some agencies try to be everything to everyone, or so their positioning would have us believe. As a service provider, that’s an understandable position to take, but it dilutes your offering when a prospective client comes along with specific needs (which is, really, all of them). The ability of an agency to differentiate itself begins with a compelling agency positioning. You don’t have to be so hyper-specialized as to become irrelevant for most AOR searches, but small tweaks in the way you talk about your agency can make a big difference in how you’re perceived. A great historic example was Kaplan Thaler Group’s “We make unknown brands famous. Make famous brands icons. And create ideas that become part of our culture.” Start with a philosophy that’s true to your work and style, and infuse that into everything else: work processes, interaction processes, and ultimately a positioning statement. 2. Focus on business issues This one is so obvious, yet so often forgotten in the rush to talk up your agency. Business issues should be an undercurrent to, if not the outright focus of, any conversation with a prospective client. Even if the client’s not willing to share all issues outright, there are ways to make the conversation more about them than you, and better yet, to show how you’re the solution they need. The successful matchup of client needs and agency offerings begins with an agency’s ability to draw explicit connections between the two. 3. Highlight service The importance of outstanding service delivery can’t be overlooked. [...]

Understanding Client Satisfaction: It Depends On Who’s Asking The Questions

How often have you recommended to a client that they conduct research among their own customers to gauge overall satisfaction and uncover what they value about the relationship to your client’s company or brand? You’re astute enough to know that armed with customer satisfaction data, you can more knowledgeably guide that client in everything from customer acquisition to integration of sales and marketing to customer retention. Now, how often have you thought about the need to understand the satisfaction of your agency’s clients? The fact is agencies tend to avoid client satisfaction surveys for two reasons: We’re either afraid to ask the big questions for fear we might hear something we don’t like, or we assume everything is good because they are still with us. Both ways of thinking can lead to missing an opportunity to fine-tune your relationship with your clients, or more importantly heading off an impending disaster. As an agency owner, you shouldn’t be involved in every detail of what’s happening between your clients and your agency. But, that doesn’t mean you should operate within a vacuum either. If you have an established “one-on-one” meeting process in place between you and your direct reports, and those direct reports have the same established with staff members they manage, then you should have a general awareness of what’s happening with clients. Your responsibility is to ensure that the management of client relationships is carried out in a manner consistent with the agency’s core values and service philosophy. There may be periods of time when that’s not happening, resulting in a slow erosion of confidence between the client and the agency. Simple ways to gauge client satisfaction That’s why it’s smart to periodically engage your [...]

Clients Long for Brave Agencies: 3 Fears to Conquer

Launching an agency means challenges are bound to arise, and these challenges often revolve around money and perspective. When the two collide, that’s when most brave agencies stumble a bit. As soon as the words “revenue” and “loss” appear in the same sentence, many brave agencies understandably freeze with fear. It’s easy to lose objectivity and the ability to stay focused on the big picture. That often leads to an agency scrambling to take on new clients, regardless of their suitability. This “any port in a storm” mentality can really jeopardize an agency’s ability to create stability and profitability. It also leads to brave agencies being less willing to stand their ground and advocate for what they know is the best solution for their clients. It’s easy to capitulate when you’re worried about making payroll. But when clients search for brave agencies, they’re looking for that outside perspective. They don’t need a “yes” man; they need objectivity and an outside viewpoint they can’t find internally. This difference in opinion won’t always have you seeing eye to eye, but that’s usually what sparks the big idea—that collaborative, 360-degree viewpoint. If you’re challenging one another, ideas get better. And it’s the co-creation of those ideas where trust is earned. The bottom line: Your agency must have the confidence—or dare I say, the bravery—to find your voice and speak up. That’s the value you bring to your clients, which in turn is what creates value for you as a business. How you go about finding your voice and solidifying those bonds with clients is entirely up to you, but it often starts with mustering the courage to do the following: 1. Hold Strong Opinions To be treated as [...]

Sell What You Do, Not What You Make

Agencies love to talk about their “stuff.” From event strategies to promotional packages, they get deep into the nitty-gritty. Although nuts and bolts might be great for a home renovation project, they don’t produce tons of revenue. What’s the problem? Selling tangible things limits the conversation to stuff that everyone offers. You create websites? Great, but so does every other agency in your marketplace. In other words, by emphasizing what you make, you inadvertently level the playing field. And that’s bound to kill your conversions. Instead of pontificating about features, focus on the service elements that make your agency the most powerful on the globe: It’ll oil the sales funnel and help prospective audiences slide into client roles. It’s what Accenture does, and it’s why it’s the No. 1 agency in the world. Ironically, the company barely makes anything and it’s prospering to the point that its 4,000-employee company just announced the addition of 800 jobs in Atlanta. Those are some serious numbers in a notoriously tough arena, and they do it all by highlighting what can’t be commoditized. Accenture sells its thinking, strategy and planning; in other words, it sells what it knows about the industry. Its expertise — not its products — is its strength, and that’s worth loads to eager customers. Other agencies receive $125 or $150 an hour; Accenture commands up to $400. The company has hit upon a truth in selling and agencies are poised to do likewise if they shift their mindsets from making to doing. What does your agency bring to the party? Prospects are accustomed to playing a price tug of war with their agencies, but when the talk moves toward what you do instead of the cost [...]

How to Stop Your Client from Shopping Around

Think of the last time you went shopping online. Was it for clothes? Shoes? Maybe even a graphic designer? We live in an age where creative contractors are only a click away. More and more, clients are hiring them for single projects or just a few months at a time. The industry has moved to this project-based model, and partnerships between clients and agencies no longer mean as much as they once did. This trend is anything but surprising, however, considering the way the nature of the work has changed. In the past, advertising agencies did advertising: They created ads and bought space to run those ads. Usually, those media buys were for longer periods of time, and agencies made most of their money off the commissions. To guarantee the agency was paid and the client’s budget was maximized, they had to enter into a long-term contract before any work could be done. Today, agencies are doing much more than advertising. They’re developing strategic sales plans. They’re helping with client retention. They’re fostering brand evolution. These are fee-based projects, which means they don’t depend on media commissions. In the midst of this industry shift, the way your agency sells — or doesn’t sell — its value to clients can make or break your chance for a long-term partnership. Sell Solutions, Not Things When an agency makes the mistake of teaching its clients it sells things rather than solutions, clients begin to think of it as a place to shop for a website, brochure or TV spot – rather than looking to invest in long-term strategic ideas and business solutions. Think about it: People don’t change accountants or attorneys every six months because there is value [...]

How Can Agency Account Managers Build Better Client Relationships

Innovation doesn’t happen when you’re taking orders from a client. It happens when your agency and your client work together to build something groundbreaking and different. And that’s where every agency sets out to be: on the cutting edge of new ideas and trends. Today, thriving agencies aren’t just selling their clients marketing tactics; they’re helping them solve business problems and build better client relationships. The advantages of business savvy So, how can you begin to earn the kind of client relationships you’re looking for? You have to start by earning your clients’ trust and the first people to begin to build that relationship are the ones communicating with them every day: your Account Executives. It’s not enough for your Account Executives to simply be good communicators, though. They also need to prove that they’re good Business Advisors, and that means understanding every aspect of business, from finance to production to distribution. It’s simple: The more an Account Executive understands how business works, the more effectively he can serve his clients’ businesses. Here are a few proven benefits of Account Executives with real, working business knowledge: 1. It allows you to create better, more complex solutions to your clients’ problems. The best account management allows your agency to be a valuable resource for your clients, rather than just a vendor. Having smart, proven business knowledge to back your creative recommendations won’t just help you sell to your current clients. It will also differentiate you from other agencies that are still simply selling “marketing stuff.” 2. It allows you to charge a premium price because you can document the value you deliver. Your Account Executives won’t just run more profitable accounts. They’ll also be able to prove [...]

Client Retention Strategies: Are You About to be Fired?

Client retention strategies are critical in your agency -- especially considering one third of all advertising agency clients expect to change agencies within the next 12 months. Let me rephrase that for you -- one third of all clients are going to FIRE their current agency within the next 12 months.  Do you think that your marketing agency is the exception to this rule? Are you 110% confident that every client you have can't imagine doing business without you? Here are the big reasons clients cite for making the change: A leadership shift within the client (usually at the CMO or Director of Marketing position) Frustrating business results Can't track, monitor or proof any progress The core relationship between the agency and client is strained Agency performance is underwhelming Agency never brings us new/fresh ideas Agency was gung ho to get us, now we're just one of many And the #1 reason among those -- the last one.  They don't feel courted anymore.  They're not your special, most favorite client. So I am point blank asking you: hey advertising agency -- are you about to be fired?  How do you know? Do you have any client retention strategies in place? How do you know if your relationships are at risk?  Here are a couple ideas. Here are a couple of ideas to consider as part of client retention. Ask.  I know it sounds simplistic but when was the last time you had lunch or a drink with a client and just asked for honest feedback?  Don't do it over the phone, over email or for the love of Pete, over a text.  Set up a specific meeting just for this conversation. Give them some feedback on how you [...]