By James Trowman, Partner and General Manager at The Frameworks
Successful agencies actively strive to develop and maintain long-term client relationships. And it’s easy to see why. They provide not just a stable financial platform, but also an opportunity to deliver varied projects that demonstrate expertise and, in turn, help to recruit new clients and new employees. Long agency-client relationships also project a positive image both internally and externally.
These relationships often develop into one-to-one personal relationships that grow throughout your career, providing many more longer-term opportunities. But, as with any relationship, maintaining a long-term client connection is not easy: it needs constant review and hard work to ensure it doesn’t become stale.
Here are ten ways to help keep things fresh.
Love the challenge before you embark on the work
To do your very best work, you first need to love the challenges you’re being set. This means looking deep into what’s driving the need for this work. Who are you trying to help and influence? What is the difference you could make by delivering this fantastic piece of work? Demonstrating this passion and love for a client’s unique challenge will not only build enthusiasm and success in the project, it will also help establish a strong level of trust in the eyes of your client.
Invest time in individual client relationships
All clients have their own personal career objectives and motivations, and through your position at an agency, you can offer advice and guidance which can directly support their career path. The success of our work helps to get clients recognised internally and can also support promotion opportunities. I constantly speak to our team about making our clients heroes by focusing on delivering innovative work that yields results, but also by promoting that work with their colleagues to help generate further opportunities. If we do this, we have done our job. Something that is never forgotten by a client. When they then move into new roles or to new companies, you become their first port of call when they need support.
Bring (non-confidential) insights from other clients’ projects
We are all intrigued by the work of other agencies and our clients feel the same about their peers and competitors. They want to know how other businesses are responding to various marketing and communication challenges. Bringing examples and successes from other client relationships helps to excite clients about the possibilities and builds trust in your skills, experience and expertise. And that doesn’t just mean insights from different clients. Sometimes as an agency you are more aware than your client about what is being delivered across their own business. Sharing this information demonstrates your agency’s broad integration with a client and again helps to establish trust in what you can deliver.
Understand your client’s business objectives and direction and always embrace change as an opportunity
Sometimes it’s very easy to focus solely on the project in front of you. However, it is critical to always be cognisant of the journey your client’s business is going on. What are the latest communications from the C-suite? What are they saying in their annual report? How are broader industry themes and challenges impacting the business? In understanding this, you can act as a guide and consultant around how the delivery of projects ladders up to the overarching objectives of your client’s business.
Continually stay abreast of the responsibility and reporting structure
To maintain a long-standing client relationship, especially with larger organisations, it’s critical to stay abreast of the ever-changing reporting structure. Knowing who is responsible for what and who reports to whom, helps guide you on where your time and efforts should be focused in order to develop new relationships and new opportunities.
Consider new working approaches and methods to better partner with your clients
It is not just the output that will help keep client relationships fresh, but also the approaches you take to get there. Examples might include new brainstorming and collaboration techniques, or closer collaboration through platforms already used by your client. With people now starting to divide their time between the office and home working, digital tools such as Slack have worked well to improve close client integration and maintain continuity. We’ve also been using a number of another brainstorming, collaboration and prototyping tools such as Figma, Trello and Miro.
Be careful not to get siloed and continually promote your skills, experience and expertise
As part of some client relationships, we have become recognised for delivering one type of work, which is usually a result of our own success. However, this can be a challenge as we need to be careful not to get siloed.
What’s important to recognise and appreciate is that the clients you work with are unlikely to know the full extent of your services or expertise. Don’t take it for granted that your clients know how you can help them outside your day-to-day remit. You should instead keep educating your client and sharing examples of your work. If you’re seen as a one-trick pony your relationship will be in jeopardy, especially if that trick goes out of fashion.
Make sure you find out how your work has performed. Learn from it. Celebrate it.
A key facet to any long-standing client relationship is the success of your work. No one does all this for love, after all. But sometimes you’re simply not aware of how well a project has performed. Never be shy to ask, even if you feel it may not have performed as well as you expected. Just asking will be seen as a huge positive by a client, but more important are the insights you can take forward into future projects. And when work does perform well, make sure you celebrate it by entering awards, telling other clients, and sharing the positivity with your colleagues. We need good news more than ever these days!
Learn from other partner agencies to help you stay competitive
In a long-standing and larger client relationship you must accept that you will not always be the flavour of the month and that clients do use other agencies. When this happens, never stick your head in the sand. Rather, learn why other agencies are being used. What work are they doing? What experience and expertise do they have? What relationships are they developing? Take this knowledge and use it to further your opportunities when they come, whether you’re asked to work in partnership with another agency or to pitch against them.
Promote the client relationship internally at the agency
Finally, it’s critical that the enthusiasm for your client and their challenges is shared by everyone in your agency. Take the time to keep people up to date on the work that is being delivered, how it is being received, and how the business is performing. Maintaining a long-standing client relationship is not down to one or two people; it’s down to all the different agency experts you rely on to deliver outstanding work.
In conclusion, to build a strong client relationship, you can’t rely solely on performing to the best of your ability; you also need to be passionate about the work and understand your client’s objectives and company values. Constantly reviewing and building upon your client relationship will not only maintain it but will help it grow.