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What do clients want from their agency partners? We'll look at the five most important things agencies should focus on in this detailed guide.
Every agency has at least one story of a client relationship that went completely off the rails.
Maybe it was miscommunication. Maybe it was the quality of the work. Or maybe it was plain old “bad fit”.
Whatever the reason, at moments like these, it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself:
“What do clients really want?”
There is a mistaken belief among a lot of agencies that clients want work. This essentially relegates agencies to outsourced working pits, evaluated only on the basis of their last deliverable.
The truth is that clients want a lot more than just “work”. As we’ll dig in below, you’ll learn about the things clients truly value, including:
- Narrow expertise instead of generic “do-it-all” offerings
- Partnerships instead of one-off projects
- Proactive problem solving
1. Narrow Expertise
A couple of years ago, Ford ended a 75-year long partnership with WPP as its sole advertising partner. In its place, Ford named BBDO its lead advertising agency.
But that’s not what the story is truly about.
Alongside BBDO, Ford also named Wieden + Kennedy as an “innovation partner”. It also added over 100 in-house marketers to move some key duties within the company.
This shift from a single agency partner to multiple sources of talent marks a broader trend in the agency-client world. Instead of a single “everything” agency, more and more clients are now moving to a multi-agency model where they can tap into different partners for different skills.
In other words, clients now want narrow expertise, not broad knowledge.
As with most changes in the 21st century, you can blame the internet for this as well. A small business isn’t limited to the five agencies located within its hometown; it can reach out to the millions of agencies worldwide for specific skills.
And there are a lot of agencies worldwide! (Image source: Statista)
The increasing complexity and competitiveness of digital marketing don’t help either. Two decades ago, adding a handful of meta tags and writing 500-words of content was enough to ace your SEO. Now you need half a dozen team members and a six-figure budget for the same results.
In this environment, expertise always wins.
Clients don’t want an agency partner that can do everything; they want partners that can do one thing really well. In an ultra-competitive environment, narrow expertise gives them the confidence that the agency can truly pull off audacious, result-generating campaigns.
What you need to do
Ditch the “full-service agency” model. Instead:
- Define your positioning clearly
- Develop specific skills for narrow markets
- Align your specialization with your target market’s requirements
I recommend starting with these two posts to get a better understanding of specialization and positioning:
2. Proactive Problem-Solving
Most agency-client relationships follow the same pattern:
Client comes up with a problem, agency develops a solution, client goes away happy.
If you can do this consistently, you will have a successful agency.
However, this approach limits your growth potential. It reduces your agency to a single purpose ‘shop’. Not only will your profits be lower, you’ll also be one deliverable away from being fired.
Your goal should be to become a partner. And to do that, you need to identify problems proactively.
Suppose a client comes to you with a request for a new YouTube campaign. If you’re offering services, you’ll simply ask for a brief, create the campaign, and cash your check.
If you’re a partner, however, you’ll dig deeper. You’ll try to identify why the client even needs a YouTube campaign. That might reveal to you that the client is struggling with attracting younger customers. Which, in turn, can help you pitch a much broader - and profitable - campaign.
Remember that clients might hire you for work, but what they really want are solutions.
If you can proactively identify these problems and offer solutions, you’ll give clients exactly what they want - even before they have an ask.
What you need to do
Proactive problem solving can’t come from half-baked knowledge. You need to truly understand:
- The client’s business
- The client’s industry
- Your own expertise
When this trifecta comes together, you’ll find that you can spot opportunities and issues for clients even before they arise. This can quickly elevate you beyond just another agency and turn you into a trusted partner.
As Caroline Counce of FSC Interactive shared in our roundup of agency marketing tips, being proactive can pay off handsomely.
3. Be Strategic, Not Just Tactical
Agencies often get bogged down by tactical work - the daily ins and outs of producing creative and placing ads.
While this is certainly crucial and it will be the bread and butter of your billings, clients need a little more from you.
Take a look at Forbes’ survey of what agencies and clients consider to be important. Clients prioritize media strategy greatly, while for agencies, it’s only 10% of the pie.
Clearly, there is a gap that needs to be filled.
Strategy, especially when it pertains to your sphere of expertise (such as media strategy), is what helps you stand apart. Anyone can buy an ad, but only someone who truly understands trends and creative work can map a long-term media strategy.
By offering strategic advice, you can also move beyond the one-off campaign shop and become a true partner to your clients.
It’s a win for everyone involved - clients get better advice and agencies get long-term, trusted clients.
What you need to do
Being “strategic” is hardly pointed advice. If you’re doing creative work for a client, it’s also difficult to jump from writing copy to planning their 3-year-long media campaigns.
Your goal should be to jump off from your existing relationship and start digging a little deeper. If you’re running an email marketing campaign, ask how it fits into their broader marketing goals. If you spot an obvious opportunity or lapse, make sure to mention it - even if you can’t immediately benefit from it.
Your aim should be to become a sounding board for the client’s strategic vision. Don’t be pushy, don’t be salesy; just focus on offering value.
The contracts and deals will come if you can offer genuine, useful advice to your clients.
4. Better Transparency
There’s nothing clients love more than receiving an unexpectedly inflated bill for a service they weren’t even sure they needed.
Agency operations are a mystery to most clients (and, to be fair, to most agencies as well). They can’t understand why something requires X number of hours to create, or why a project needs Y number of resources.
Clients used to accept this lack of transparency in operations (especially billing) as just a by-product of working with agencies.
However, in an era of productized services and on-demand pricing, clients have a far better idea of how agencies work. Moreover, they can compare pricing for different services easily online.
Websites like 99Designs show users exactly how much different services cost
In this context, a lack of transparency becomes a source of distrust. Clients are usually happy to pay for a service provided they a) knew about it from the start, and b) know its value.
What you need to do
Embrace radical transparency.
Don’t hide things behind the fine print. Don’t send clients unexpected bills. Don’t change headcount on projects without consulting them.
The more clarity and transparency you adopt, the more clients will be willing to trust you. If you’re sending them a bill, specify exactly what you charged them for and why. If you billed them for some materials, tell them exactly how you used it.
It helps if you have software that can easily create reports based on project work - like Workamajig. This can save you hours of effort and bring transparency to your relationships.
5. Better (and Measurable) Client Satisfaction
What do clients want beyond strategic advice, great creatives, and quarter-smashing results?
Satisfaction is the warm, gooey feeling clients feel when they know that they’re important and that their agency partners are working day and night to make them richer.
Satisfaction is being heard. It is getting a response to a query within hours, not days. It is being given clear, transparent updates on the project’s status.
Outside of results, client satisfaction is the number one priority for clients - as it should be for you.
The trouble with client satisfaction is that you can’t easily measure it, let alone improve it.
Sure, you can use tools like Net Promoter System (NPS) scores, but it’s a crude measure at best. To truly evaluate client satisfaction, you have to measure client loyalty, solution metrics, and communication metrics.
What you need to do
If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.
So step one is to start measuring client satisfaction. Refer to the article I linked above to see how you actually perform on core client/customer satisfaction metrics. Instituting an NPS system isn’t a bad idea either.
Even sitting down with clients for a friendly chat about your service works great. It will help you identify problem areas and find remedies.
Step two is to start tidying up your service.
Most client satisfaction issues crop up because of poor communication. If you can simply communicate with your clients clearly and on-time, you’ll nip most issues in the bud.
It’s not enough to simply communicate better; you must also focus your communication strategically. While your client might technically be a business, the people you interact with are, well, people. Keep key stakeholders and sponsors happy and you will invariably keep the client happy as well.
Over to You
For all the stories of over-demanding clients, most only want a few things from their agency partners: strategic depth, transparent operations, and clear communication. If you can provide these things, you’ll eventually build up a long, happy client roster.
One way to make the agency-client relationship smoother is to use better agency software. With tools like Workamajig, you can gather feedback from clients faster, create reports instantly, and streamline your communication.
You don’t have to take my word for it - schedule a demo below and see how Workamajig can transform your agency.