A Former Client’s Guide to Engaging With an Agency
As I reflect on the types of clients we work with, they typically fit into two agency experiences: They’ve never worked with an agency OR they have had a bad experience working with an agency.
For those who have had a bad experience with an agency, the horror stories usually include a host of dropped balls, lack of communication, and/or billing issues. But the real problem always seems to boil down to this: the first agency they worked with never seemed to fully understand them, their business, or their customer.
This is not one of those “Top 5 Things You Need to Look for in an Agency (Oh, and It Just So Happens We Have All Those Things)” articles. Yes, I work at an agency. But I’ve also been on the client side. I’m very sensitive to transparency and trust when working with clients — because I was one!
The Inside Scoop on Working with an Agency
When I was on the client side, it was very exciting (and kind of scary) to engage with a marketing agency.
The agency folks all seemed super smart, did many things well that I couldn’t do, and they had processes for everything. They felt like experts. However, as the brand ambassador — the person ultimately responsible for sales and marketing goals, there was a lot at stake in this engagement. It would be an expensive mistake if they didn’t deliver.
Interestingly, I see a lot of that same mentality on the agency side. Our clients are are experts in their respective fields. We love to learn about (and from) them: what their business is about, the solutions they offer, and who their customers are. They are very smart about what they do, and they have definitive ways of doing it. And there’s much at stake if our engagement gets sideways.
Ultimately, the agency and the client want the same thing: to be successful.
In our onboarding process, we are honest, transparent, and candid with clients about every nuance of our business, our processes, and the expected outcomes. Part of this means articulating what we need and expect from them in order to see success. I remember this being very helpful as a client. Some of our candor to clients includes:
The Value of Objectivity
It’s hard to get a good vantage point from inside the organization. That’s where we come in. Early in an engagement, before we get “underneath a business,” we see the big picture. We can offer a fresh perspective and, in the process, uncover insights that clients are too close to recognize.
Of course, over time we will quickly grow to know and understand your business (it’s one of our favorite parts of the job). But initially, our outsider perspective will be a powerful asset in the process in assessing your current tactics and reevaluating your approach. We can help you better understand how the market sees and interacts with your brand. Use us as a resource for viewing everything a little differently.
Don’t Make Decisions by Committee
Groupthink is dangerous. We’ve seen our clients pulling their hair out after trying to crowdsource a crucial decision. As we tackle big ideas such as your brand identity, your mission and vision statements, or your unique value propositions, it can be tempting to follow a democratic process and get buy-in from the entire executive or operations team leads to stagnation. In some cases it may be necessary but if it is not, then don’t.
In our experience, this inevitably leads to nit-picking, which can result in significant compromises that land far from the real target. The road to success is filled with flat squirrels that couldn’t make a decision! Choose key stakeholders who understand your goals and empower them to make the final decisions.
Our Goal is Providing Real Value
Contrary to popular thinking, we are not eager to bill for every minute of a phone call, email, or logo. Yes, our “product” is time and we need to bill for it. We sell expertise along with deliverables. But relationships and and doing great means more to us. See your agency as a partner, not just a vendor, and you will do great things together.
Let Go of the Vine
This term is from Gino Wickman’s book called Traction, just in a different nuance. Your brand, company and solutions are near and dear to you. It’s scary to trust “outsiders” with tinkering with it. But if you want to grow, you’ll have to let go of some decisions, authority, and processes (the vines). Trust is built over time, but you have to give your agency the opportunity to help you build it.
Not all agencies are alike, certainly. But my experience is that the outcomes of working with an agency — good and bad — hinge on recognizing and managing these kinds of expectations.
We really do want the same things. We do care deeply about your brand. It has our fingerprint on it too. Mutual trust, respect, and candor are foundational to any lasting relationship. Find an agency that shares those values and you will be well down the road to a powerful, beneficial relationship.