One of the most important things when it comes to running a successful digital agency is a strong relationship with clients.
However, you often don’t need to look too far to find businesses and marketing teams who have had less than satisfactory experiences with service providers.
While this can be for one or more reasons, sometimes due to agencies setting the wrong expectations at the start of a project or even simply not delivering what they promised, it’s a hot topic and one which shouldn’t be ignored.
Agencies are all different, but one area where many should look to improve is the feedback which they collect from their clients, either good or bad.
It’s all too easy to continue to do business in the way you’ve always done so but if something isn’t working for your clients, perhaps it’s time to evolve?
Feedback, and the associated insight which comes with it, is valuable. It lets you identify both your strengths and your weaknesses and it’s never a bad thing to conduct a fairly formal feedback survey with all clients at least once each year.
Bettering the Client-Agency Relationship
There are things which every agency can take on board to ensure that their relationship with their clients is as perfect as possible and who better to share their thoughts on ways in which this can be bettered than a selection of in-house marketers.
They’re the ones on the client-side of a relationship and who have their own preferences and frustrations which they were happy to share.
Posed with a simple question of, “How can you, as an in-house marketer, achieve a better relationship with your chosen digital agency?”
Here’s what five individuals, who each have a stack of experience working with agencies, had to say.
Jack Cooper, Digital Marketing Manager, Andertons Music Company
As a marketer that has experience on both sides, I have to say the agency side has their work cut out from the off. These guys often get a raw deal!
On the one hand, agencies are providing a paid-for service, but on the other – they are being employed as experts in their field and should be treated as such.
The fundamentals of any agency relationship have to be built firstly on trust and secondly an understanding of your business.
Box-ticking exercises like setting common goals, benchmarking performance, and being clear with timings should all be in place, but outside of these core responsibilities, I have three bits of key advice to offer:
- Chose an agency that fits with your brand ethos: Any agencies that we choose to work with have to hold the same values as we do. This includes being fluid, willing to try new things and having a centralized focus on contributing toward our mission statement. Choosing the right agency is key to a long and fruitful journey.
- Reciprocal education helps: If you’re working with an agency, the chances are you either need extra resource or expertise. Some agencies like to be uninterrupted in their work, but for me, the biggest rewards come with educating. Presenting impressive-looking digital reports is great, but being able to articulate the information to clients and highlighting why it is important helps massively.
- Allow your agency time, space, and autonomy to be creative: This isn’t a one-size-fits-all piece of advice, but one I think is important in many instances. In digital, sustainable results don’t come overnight and can take time. You need to trust that your agency is working toward results. Even if you have a clear picture, allow your agency to provide some steer. They’ve done this plenty of times before and can provide invaluable advice!
Lastly, as a piece of added value, I have found that a great opportunity to nurture better relationships with agencies across multiple channels is to be forthcoming when they want to trial new initiatives as an agency.
I’m always the first to volunteer for beta-testing, trialing new strategies, and being a bit of a guinea pig, and here is why: it allows me more one-to-one contact, more mutual interest and plenty of added value if it works!
The sentiment becomes much better and that works wonders for your agency-relationship.
Sam Pennington, Technical SEO Manager, Matalan
The reality is that, to get the most out of the relationship with any agency or third-party company, you have to be realistic in your expectations and set solid KPIs that can be reported on, can be achieved and which are realistic.
From there, it is always best to be on the best terms possible not only with your account manager but also the bosses if possible, as this typically drives more passion and focus to the work they are doing for you.
I’ve also frequently found that being as transparent as possible is absolutely paramount, and that means praising when KPIs are achieved or biting your tongue when things are not quite going to plan, but at the same time subtly showing your concern.
On this front, I always find that being hard or vocal when things aren’t going to plan is the worst thing that can happen as you’ll typically lose the respect and trust of those specialists who are working for you.
Once such a confrontation happens, it can often result in the effort on their part being reduced and the value for money starts to dwindle.
At all stages, keeping in regular contact via phone or email for a quick chat, or simply to ask how their day is going, helps with the maintenance of the relationship.
A great trait is to be able to listen to others and take there ideas and opinions on board before being dismissive as sometimes a different set of eyes and thought processes comes up with things you may have previously missed.
It’s also important to remember that every agency is different. Workflows and amount of resource and time can be different, meaning that the prioritization list or roadmap might be slightly alien to what you would do yourself but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong; it is simply what works for them.
Gareth O’Rourke, Director of International E-Commerce & Buying, CHO Fashion & Lifestyle
The client-agency relationship is of vital importance if you are going to succeed in the objectives set.
I have seen far too many clients working with agencies where it becomes a one-way street, with the client giving the agency a set of KPI’s to work towards and then expecting the agency just to get on with it without little further influence from the client.
This approach is set to fail.
For me, to get an agency to really work for your business, you need to see them as part of the team, treat them as you would internal staff members and create a strong bond between each other. It goes further than this.
It is, at the end of the day, a two-way relationship. Involving your agency in elements you think may not be related to the work they do could actually be hugely beneficial.
Making your agency part of your business is the key and this means sharing data, plans, and marketing calendars across all digital disciplines and clearly communicating what the goals are from an SEO perspective but also what the goals are of the business in the short, medium, and longer term, ensuring that the agency understand the vital role that they play in growth and expansion.
One of my own personal frustrations with agencies is the initial pitch.
There is nothing worse than a sales team pitching for work to a digital professional in instances where they have a lack of knowledge in that subject and are only looking to achieve their own personal KPIs and sales targets, rather than understanding the needs of the client.
For me personally, any agency I work within a specific digital topic, I need to be confident that the head of that element within the agency has greater knowledge on the subject than myself.
I need to understand that I am not just another client and that they have taken the time to research the business and brought to the pitch areas of improvement that are not already blatantly obvious.
Most importantly, the agency has to listen to what the client needs and not what works best for the agency.
We use a mix of internal resources and agencies to help achieve the growth targets of the business, and having an external influence can be useful as it brings a different perspective to the mix.
Personally, I still feel agencies, or the good ones at least, are relevant in the digital mix, whereas those agencies that don’t adapt and continue to roll out the same old approaches will eventually vanish from the landscape.
Antonis Konstantinidis, Head of SEO & Content Marketing at EF English Live
Working client side for almost a decade, I have had the opportunity to deal with several agencies.
The two things which I have always found to be most important are the ability to have clear and constant communication with your account manager in the agency and, most importantly, a need to set clear targets right from the start.
I have never really been a fan of continual weekly meetings, however, you need to set up a constant line of communication so they can understand your targets but also realize that there is a person that can push the proposed changes internally.
Its important for the agency to feel that the suggestions that they are making are, at the very, least being considered as that will make them feel as part of the team rather than as outsiders. That always increases productivity and results.
I always use Skype (or similar) to keep a constant line of communication with the agency as this is not too intrusive. It doesn’t take much of your time (or theirs) and is a better solution than email to build a relationship that can help you reach your goals.
Additionally, I have always felt that you are the one responsible for clearly setting the targets of the campaign and setting the expectations.
The agency might pick a series of issues that might not be easy to solve because of x, y, or z reasons which only you know about, given that you are working inside the company on a day-to-day basis.
It’s the client’s responsibility to set a clear target of what is achievable to the agency in order to hit their targets.
Good communication and clear set targets right from the start can make the relationship grow and develop.
Michael Abson, Digital Marketing Manager, Morgan Lovell
The best way to get more from your agency is to treat them as if they’re part of your team. This goes for all of your external partners – from SEO to PPC and creative agencies.
It’s important that you value each partnership and strive to develop a solid working relationship.
I’ve worked in teams in the past where there are secrets between clients and agencies.
This doesn’t help them integrate with your business or team and keep’s them at an arm’s length. I’ve made sure that every agency I use is treated like a part of my team and a trusted business partner.
This includes anything from sharing strategy with them to information and insights into projects happening outside of their function.
You never know, a small comment you make about another project might give them a great deal of insight for their next piece of work.
The more people you have onboard generating ideas for your business – the better!
A better relationship means happier clients which, in turn, means referrals within their own network resulting in growth as a business!
Take the time to understand the best lines of communication and ways of working for both parties and you’ll be thankful that you did.
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