THE BLOG

How to Forge Winning Client Relationships

03/03/2015 10:07 pm ET | Updated May 03, 2015

As every service-based business knows, while landing new clients is a critical part of the mix, relationships built and nurtured over time is where the real juice is - offering a level of stability and scaleability that is essential to long-term health and success. Such relationships take care and feeding, and are built on more than just a single campaign or project win. They're the output of trust, partnership and a track record of producing stellar work together. As former marketing leaders for global F500 brands we once were the clients ourselves and have found this perspective and insight to be invaluable in how we approach these relationships for our own agency. No matter what industry you're in, the following principles provide a great foundation for creating a long and beautiful partnership.

Take a holistic view.
Many agencies and consultants have such a laser focus on their discipline, they ignore the bigger picture in which their client operates. If as a marketer you don't understand how customer service works within your client's business you might come up with an amazing idea that will at best fall flat and at worst create internal challenges and headaches. It's your job to get smart on the essentials of their business - from brand perception to corporate reputation to sales channels and even operational challenges. You also need to understand the key stakeholders that your client might need to get on board to sell in a big initiative. What does your client need from you to help them move things forward internally?

While part of your role as an agency is to push your clients to think bigger, to be an effective partner, you must first understand the landscape in and sensitivities around which they operate, to be able to make informed recommendations that align with broader business goals and ensure your client sees you as a true strategic partner and feels like you have their best interests at heart.

Commit to honesty and transparency.
Agencies love the big reveal, sometimes to their own detriment - and that of their client. Imagine how your client looks when you present your big idea to their boss and it totally misses the mark. We know from years of experience that the strongest client relationships are the ones that include ongoing communication between agency and brand each and every step of the way, determining achievable goals and KPIs together, flagging challenges as they arise and ensuring that all details are communicated effectively to prevent unnecessary surprises and set everyone up for success

It's worth having the hard conversations up front, whether that means spending extra time negotiating a contract that does right by all parties, delivering realistic and transparent budget estimates or admitting to a mistake and delivering the plan for fixing it. Your mother was right - honesty is always the best policy - and it tells your client you are in it for the long-term.

Be a good listener and a great advisor.
Brands hire agencies for a reason - whether to bring forth best-in-class ideas and campaign concepts, to make up for stretched-too-thin internal bandwidth or to manage the nuances of a complex program, this partnership is a considered investment. Yet we see it time and time again: the brand hires an agency for a fresh approach, gets more of the same and is left feeling deflated or like they didn't get their money's worth.

We can't underscore it enough - brands aren't looking for a rubber stamp agency. They're looking for a strategic partner who knows when to raise a hand or offer a different solution - even taking them out of their comfort zone at times. They need a team with demonstrated expertise beyond their own, who can guide them to the best approach against their objectives and spend. Listen closely, read between the lines and help your clients get clear on what they're ultimately looking to achieve...and then give them your best thinking on how to get there. While not always the path of least resistance, we guarantee that this approach will pay dividends over time.

Go the extra mile.
In addition to providing world-class services, one of the less talked about roles of an agency is to position your client contact for success internally. Provide the support and resources that your client needs to be able to sell in programs, manage expectations upstairs and deliver amazing results internally. Whether that means providing more detailed strategies or post-campaign analytics, or investing extra team time to vet additional options, going the extra mile will always pay off in the end.

And be willing to play nice with others. Many of our clients have a range of marketing agencies they work with. These clients are most successful when their marketing programs work in concert and this means the agencies being willing to work together vs. engaging in a land grab for more budget. We are often the first to suggest bringing other agencies in when a big idea is on the table and its raised eyebrows more than once. Its what we did when we were on the client side and though some partners can be pushier than others, its still the right thing to do. And doing the right thing often leads to the best thing, for you, the client and the relationship.