One of my surprises in launching our agency 7 years ago was that I figured out the agency industry built more on relationships than it is the value of the services. I'd even go so far as to say it's also largely contingent on benefits of the relationship as well.
Has your client trusted you and have you been working with them for years? Well, that will lead to referrals and a continued healthy relationship. Have you showered your client with surprises, like the latest technology and tickets to the next big conference? You'd be surprised how many clients that will get you as well.
Have you provided your client with value? It's sad that that really doesn't have the impact that the others do. We've always prided our work based off of how we elevated and moved our clients forward. We were surprised to find that some of them didn't.
Over the years, as we take clients on, we do a lot more due diligence to ensure they're a good client for us as much as they're testing to see if we're the right client for them. Sometimes prospects want to move forward and we've pushed back or walked away. Sometimes the business we are already working with changes leadership and we've pushed back or walk away.
When we quit on one large client, their new director warned, “You shouldn't burn your bridges.” I told him that we definitely weren't looking to do that but he was making a huge error abandoning the strategy we developed. It had successfully grown the company's online demand several times over in the years. He sneered that he knew better. So I responded that we'd be back when he left the company. Years later and I fear we're close – the company has lost all the momentum we provided them… and then some. I may have burned my bridges with him, but I believe we'll help the company again soon.
Most recently, we had a luxury retail outlet contact us for assistance. The business was shifting ownership and the vibrant owner with an incredible network was selling the business to some talented young owners. Even though he was moving on, he was concerned about his legacy and wanted to ensure that the new owners were successful. Since they no longer could rely on his network, he contacted us to see if we could grow awareness and demand online.
Of course, we could. We pointed out several low-hanging issues with their web presence as well as discussed recent trends in his industry. While he believed demand for his company to be shrinking, we found massive growth and expansion online. His local retail outlet had the inventory and scale to go national – he just never worked on that digitally since he could rely on his network.
As we grew closer to discussing budget and a proposal, he began to push back that his budget was minimal. We discussed his network and the years it took to build it. We discussed the demand that he required to maintain and grow the business. He pushed back that he felt like that might be wasting money, just replacing a site that he had already had built that hadn't helped his business at all. We reiterated to him the strategies that we were going to deploy – that it wasn't just a site, it was branding, product promotion, content, search awareness, ecommerce capabilities… he wasn't budging.
Both examples are companies that had incredible potential. The first, we actually did help reach and grow the potential with and it resulted in millions of dollars to the company's bottom line. And I can assure you that our revenue was a fraction of that. The second had the potential for millions of dollars, but the owner simply couldn't see it no matter how we tried to explain it. Perhaps we could have fine-tuned the offer with some benefits… but I doubt it would have helped. We still need buy-in from the client and a substantial investment made to move the needle.
So we walked. And when he asked us to come back and discuss further, we let him know that we had to move on. We had prospects who did recognize the opportunity and the impact our work had made on other clients.
Will he enact a digital strategy? Most likely… he'll find some agency to do some work for him. Someone that overpromises, kicks out a project or a campaign, and then leaves with a little bit of cash and the client doing no better. I wish agencies weren't so hungry and more would tell the prospect to take a walk. Years ago, I would have never said that.
Years ago, I would have never said that. I would have said that it's our job to educate our prospects and clients. If they didn't recognize the value and the investment that needed to be made, that was our fault. But not anymore… If prospects or clients can't see that the world has changed, that their competitors online are eating their lunch, and that they need to get serious with investing a set percentage of gross revenue back into their marketing efforts, I'm just not going to waste my time trying to explain it anymore.
I did elude a week or so ago that Marketers were part of the problem, often setting enormous expectations with ridiculously low costs. As a result, the client never succeeds and, since the cost of the services they did pay for didn't work, they're hesitant at investing even more. If everyone's talking about how easy this stuff is (when it's not), we have an industry problem as well.
What do you think? Am I premature in my response? Maybe I've been doing this too long and I'm just becoming a jerk.