By Shoebahmed Shaikh, Director
“How many times can we expect to see ourselves on the front page” used to be the PR equivalent of the graphic design client who asked you to “make our logo bigger”. No one misses those days. The agency-client relationship is sometimes the corporate world equivalent of a sadomasochist relationship and unless consultancies want to be a glutton for punishment, it doesn’t end well.
Here’s the next billion-dollar idea – a filter that accurately predicts the cultural fit of a candidate in your company. Think of how much attention recruiters pay to ensure that candidates can seamlessly integrate into the cultural fabric of their organization. The rationale is sound; efficient and productive teams should be able to bring their A-game to work (or from home) despite their backgrounds, diversity markers, education credentials, and work experience. The case is being made for organizations, global companies as well as startups to amplify the diversity quotient within ranks to create a delicious fondue of innovation. So, why shouldn’t the client be cut from the same cloth?
A good place to start is to study exit interviews with departing colleagues which indicate client related reasons as an influential reason for their decision to leave. ‘Recruiting’ clients as a means to your organization’s growth deserves as much attention as recruiting team members. It’s easy for any consultancy to draw a line between ‘green zone’ and ‘red zone’ clients based on ease to work with, collaboration which leads to business outcomes and an empathy layer to understand the day to day challenges. It is not hard to guess which type of client the teams will naturally push harder and consistently for.
You spend a third of your day working to ensure client success. It seems fair that there is a camaraderie that leads to collective success. Here’s a quick guide to ensure we don’t get into an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation:
1. Assign the right teams – The most understated method to ensure long term client success. Yet, agencies often prioritize the availability of resources over anything else. When’s the last time you pulled a servicing or content executive from an account for another because they were a better fit for a new challenge? Matching client personalities is also an art for operation managers to master.
2. Learning to say no – There are few teams whose default mode is to settle for mediocrity. Everyone wants to do more, achieve more, and set a high benchmark. This often leads to your team being predisposed to saying yes to everything a client has to suggest. A higher premium is set on catering to client requests despite their validity which inevitably leads to failure to deliver.
3. First impressions – The pitch stage is a window into the future of the client relationship. Repeat this statement over twice. Pushy clients don’t miraculously accept the virtue of patience to see long term results. Hard bargainers will think twice about campaign budgets. Opportunistic clients will think that they can poach your best performers to begin a glorious era of in-house teams. Pick them at your own peril.
4. Adapt to client platforms – Collaboration is a keyword that defines agency and client success. It can be as simple as the chat platform that both partners use to communicate (Slack versus Whatsapp, OneDrive versus Google Docs). This seems trivial on paper, but understanding and adapting to this early can make a world of difference.
A lot of these observations seem to fly in the face of the market dynamics agencies face today. But the long term implications that a toxic client will have on your team’s mental and professional well being are far more impactful. It is not easy to say no business that comes knocking at your door. A lot of times leadership sets the tone on how a client relationship evolves as teams will follow suit. This is why it is important to catch early signs, set expectations right, and be able to keep pace with the required aggressiveness of the market that your client inhabits.