BIMA’s latest client services roundtable breakfast in Glasgow was hosted by Front Page and lead by Jackie Arnott-Raymond, Managing Director, Front Page on 30th April 2019. We were joined by senior digital professionals from After Digital, AmazeRealise, CelloSignal, Dog, Equator, Frame, Greenhill Technologies, Made Brave, Neu and Pim-Pam.
Under discussion were the challenges of being the eyes of the client in your agency but the lively conversation expanded in many directions. Held under Chatham House Rules much of the chat stays in the room but we can share some unattributed observations and learnings.
Jackie opened the session with some revealing statistics provided by Up to the Light on how client services is perceived by clients, here are a couple:
- 87% of clients who had weaker agency relationships cited client service issues as the main reason
- 69% of clients see their agency as a partner rather than a supplier.
Some of the challenges that arose early on in the conversation included:
- Getting performance data from clients once a project is launched can be difficult
- Who should be the client’s touch points in an agency?
- What will make a client stay with you?
- Clients forgetting you are not immersed in their day to day business
- and conversely understanding the pressures your client may be under “getting under the skin of the client”
Several strategies were discussed with a view to identifying and managing strong client relationships.
Carrying out honest 2-way feedback with clients managed by a third party. Everyone agreed this was valuable but it was noted that the timing of carrying these out is important (don’t do it after something has just gone wrong as the data will be skewed) and structuring the feedback is crucial. Seek the rational and try to avoid the emotional. Also preparing the client for this process is important as they may find it challenging.
As relationships with clients become more of partnership (you are an extension of their team) keeping this flow of honest but constructive communication is essential.
Another strategy raised was running a discreet dispassionate check list with potential new clients set against some basic measures that suit your business. For example: “do we believe if we build this it will be launched?”. The questions are not emotional and help to set gut instinct against logic to assess whether this relationship is likely to be successful and meet both your business needs.
This led to more challenges being aired:
Everyone agreed that being pigeon-holed by the client is a challenge, whether it is a resistance to expanding your role, or your client contact’s concern that they will lose your time and expertise to something else, or simply not having the time to think about what next. Strategies to combat this included forcing the agenda by putting mandatory quarterly meetings into the calendar with a broader remit than the current project, providing the opportunity to showcase other capabilities and work. Build a bit of FOMO. Perhaps don’t wait for permission to extend your reach within the client and go for the opportunities you see.
Be the trusted friend, marketing roles can be pretty lonely.
Keeping the delivery team motivated
All agreed that your studio team is a client too. It is important to keep them happy, informed and engaged. This can be challenging when great work does not get used by the client in the end. It is important to celebrate successes internally so if a pitch goes well celebrate before you know the outcome because everyone did a great job. Similarly celebrate great work at townhall meetings regardless of whether it is launched.
This led to the debate on how much you engage the delivery team with the time and money matrix. There was general agreement that the team should be aware of tipping points on hours spent and deadlines but too much information and shared pressure on money can distract from getting the best possible job done.
To help communication and collaboration across teams and with the client a couple of platforms were suggested:
New Business vs Client Services
The question was asked whether the new business function sat alone or imbedded within teams. In most cases it was largely imbedded on the notion that most growth comes through upscaling current clients, cross-selling products and services, and referrals. It was generally observed that cold calling does not work and investing in stand alone exhibitions does not show a strong ROI. Nourishing existing client relationships is the key and referrals seems a strong route for growth.
So what does the client of the future look like? Jackie mentioned she attended a session where the speaker stated big corporate clients were not the future and start ups were the place for growth. All agreed that the two opportunities had converse challenges:
- startups could be quick to win but can come with lots of challenges when it comes to delivery
- big corporates can be slow to win but once in the relationship is usually easier to manage
A final challenge raised was working on projects with multi agencies, which is becoming more the norm. Often the issues here are not so much the other agencies but how the client manages, or does not manage, the multiple teams. Agencies have a natural empathy for each other’s challenges but also ultimately a responsibility to deliver a great product/service and look good. The role of the client is crucial to keep everything on track.
We were running out of time and value based pricing was brought up: this and inter-agency collaboration are definitely topics to be discussed by the BIMA CS community in the near future – watch this space.
Thank you to everyone who took times out of their busy schedules to share great insights and honest viewpoints. An especially big thank you to Jackie and Claire for leading the discussion and hosting the breakfast.
Further reading: Up to the Light 2018 Clients’ Survey