It's a Game of Snakes and Ladders
Building trust in a business relationship is like a game of snakes and ladders. You can spend years successfully progressing and moving forward with a client, only to have one slip up send you sliding back to the bottom!
Marketing, web development, PR and creative agencies play this game every day with a business model built on high-touch human relationships. Clients pay for expertise under various arrangements such as a monthly service retainer or project-based. Whichever the setup, you need to continually prove your worth and keep the client happy - or they quickly move onto another agency who can.
We've all been there: working overtime, only for one mistake to tarnish our reputation and damage client trust.
The equation of growth in an agency is simple: Retain and expand existing clients + bring new clients in.
While simple on the surface, the reality is anything but! Being serviced-based, client engagements are very human oriented, high-touch and generally time intensive. It takes months to build up rapport and trust between clients and their account managers, and as a client’s needs grow, of course the agency's time and number of daily interactions increases along with it.
Expansion of services means that without increased head count, your team naturally starts to spread their time and energy more thinly across existing clients. This can put a strain on the relationship, as clients can start to feel they are receiving less attention.
Under time pressures, account managers often start to take short-cuts 'to get the job done', which often leads to small slippages with client communications. They may reduce frequency of WIP meetings so they can close off tasks and meet deadlines, or push campaigns live without getting full input or sign off from the client. As an agency you are powering on, working long hours to get everything completed on time and keep the client happy.
BUT then ... and you know what's coming: you get that dredded email or phone call! ... despite all of your agency's hard work and dedication, the client has a complaint. They need you to URGENTLY fix the issue they have discovered, and they are EXTREMELY disappointed in what has happened.
Nothing makes you feel worse than hearing your client say how "disappointed" they are, and that they want a review meeting to dissect how it happened. We know, we've been there - and it can be a long road back to build up that trust again.
Growing an agency requires you to preserve existing client relationships.
Fact: running a successful agency is hard work.
We learned the hard way that the key to success in growing an agency is first and foremost about protecting the quality of your existing client relationships. This took us on a long journey to improving our systems and developing tools to enable our growing team to continue to provide a quality service to our clients, while also allowing us to focus on acquiring new customers at the same time. This realisation was one of the main reasons we created Nodd.
Agency-land is filled with numerous daily approvals and sign-offs between the agency and the client. Some of these are as simple as a requirement to have the client confirm they are happy where things are at and that "yes, you can keep going". Some are more complex than that, like a creative suite of banners or a campaign budget approval. But all of them require clear, black and white communications between the agency and the client. Is it approved? Yes or No? Can we proceed? etc
More often, it is the accumulation of small, corrosive barnacles slowing attaching themselves to the hull of your agency, weighing it down until eventually the weight gets too much and it sinks.
It is pretty rare than one thing can completely ruin the relationship you have built up with your client - even if it is a big thing. We identified that one of the key reasons we were having issues was due to lots of small and relatively basic communication breakdowns that were slowly eroding trust with clients.
It was the accumulation of small, corrosive barnacles slowing attaching themselves to the hull of our agency, weighing it down until eventually the weight got too much. Eventually, one small slip up was enough to sink the relationship.
“The relationship between a manufacturer and his advertising agency is almost as intimate as the relationship between a patient and his doctor.” - David Ogilvy.
What is your agency using for client sign offs and approvals? How do you ensure that clear records are stored if you need them in future when someone leaves or queries a previous decision, or that all key parties have signed off? What level of confidence do you have that your team are keeping those barnacles from attaching to the hull of your agency?
Having run our own digital agencies for over two decades, we know how critical it is to protect the agency-client relationship. Apart from email, or cumbersome e-sign off software programmes, we couldn't find a simple way of getting sign offs for what we required in our agencies: high volume approvals on a daily basis.
So we built something ourselves to solve it, and called it Nodd.