This might seem obvious, but honestly, it’s one of the most discussed aspects of client services at Square 2 Marketing. Who is our point of contact?
Is it the CEO? Is it the marketing person we’ve been assigned to work with? Is it their boss? Is it the person who signed our agreement or Is it the person who approves our invoice each month?Yes, it matters and yes, there’s a methodology behind how we decide who the ultimate decision maker is and then how we engage with that VIP (very important person) even when we’ve been instructed to work with a lower level marketing person.
If you’ve run into any inbound agency client services' challenges like knowing how to navigate client organizations, then this article is going to provide you a lot of valuable insights.
Why Does It Matter?
Your new client just signed up, they told you your point of contact is going to be Glen, the in-house graphic designer. Problem? Opportunity?
You’ve been working with the CEO for the past 11 months, she just informed you that she’s going to be focused on a new project and you’ll be working with the VP of Sales. Problem? Opportunity?
Great news, you got the job and the President lets you know that they have a board meeting coming up in a few weeks and he’s excited to let them know you’re working together. Problem? Opportunity?
No matter how big or small your client, almost every inbound marketing client engagement has some type of contact oriented navigational challenges and in our experience the bigger the company, the bigger the challenges. It’s not about if, it’s about when, these are going to come up. How you deal with it so it ends up productive for you and of your client is key.
Right out of the gate, setting expectations with everyone, and agreeing to how you’ll work together might be the most important first step in creating a positive client relationship and a partner oriented engagement that delivers the referenceable client you’re looking for. Get this wrong and you could lose the client, lose a lot of money working on the wrong things or maybe even find your agency in court.
How To Be Inclusive?
No matter how great you are at understanding who the decision makers will be while in the sales process, its not enough. No matter how great you are at managing your engagements to establish the contact and support team, that’s not enough. Even if you’re doing a pre-engagement workshop to explain inbound marketing to everyone at the company, I don’t think it’s enough.
We do all of that and still run into contact related challenges with clients from time to time. The facts are your clients change their mind, their best intentions are not always realized, and their organizations change. To manage through this reality, you must have a defined methodology and tactics to limit the risks associated with these types of challenges.
We take a three-pronged approach to staying close to almost everyone who might be involved in evaluating us, paying us and giving us feedback on how we’re doing.
The Kick Off Meeting
Almost everyone at your new client’s company is excited to start working with a new inbound marketing agency. Take advantage of that excitement and invite everyone to the kick off meeting. Even if you’re doing a companywide inbound marketing workshop, you want all the players involved in the engagement kick off. During that session, we ask every client, how are you going to measure the success of this engagement? What do you expect from us? What do we have to do to be your inbound marketing agency forever?
Its critical for everyone on the client side to hear the question and the answer and it’s critical for you to make sure there is agreement across the client on the answers to those questions. Then you want remind the client on a regular basis, we do it at the monthly progress report sessions. Believe it or not, their definition of success can change or they forget about what you agreed to when you started. By keeping them focused and reminding them, you might eliminate this as an issue.
The Weekly Communication
You’re probably already doing this. Regular updates do wonders for keeping your clients engaged and aware of what you’re working on, what you need from them, and any challenges. But the weekly communication gives you an opportunity to share your progress with anyone in the company who’s not intimate with the engagement details.
In the first scenario, where you’re working with the in-house graphic designer, make sure you copy their boss, their bosses boss and anyone who might have anything to do with your engagement. In the third scenario, you can include the entire board in the communication. If your point of contact asks you to stop, let them know that you’d prefer to be more inclusive in the weekly updates. It’s no extra work for you or them and it helps us be sure we’re doing what’s right for the company.
If they insist, I’d recommend going to the CEO and asking their opinion. Again, making sure you explain the benefits to them and even using a few stories from unsuccessful engagements. If they view you as a partner, this should be seen as a positive and proactive effort on your part. If they view you as a vendor, they’ll resist. It’s always good to know who views your agency as a partner and who views you as a vendor.
A Relationship With The Person Who Pays You
No matter who you’re working with, you want to know the top person. Either the CEO, or person on the board who has the control, you need to have a personal relationship with them. This allows you acess to the top exec if you need it and it allows them the ability to get to you if they need something.
We do that by establishing a check-in conversation with this person about every 60 days. Again, regardless of who we’re working with, I reach out to the CEO, in a CEO to CEO way, and ask how we’re doing. I ask for feedback on progress, quality of work, team members and communication. Most of the time they have positive feedbac to share, but they appreciate the check ins.
Yes, I’m doing this to get feedback, but I’m really doing this to establish a relationship in case things go off the rails or they start behaving erratically. For example, if the company is having financial difficulties, this might manifest itself in the forms of challenges to the quality, so they don’t have to pay. They’re might be nothing different or wrong with what you’re doing, but pressure is coming from above.
I want to be able to pick up the phone and check in. I want to ask “how they’re doing and if there is anything we can do to help.” This helps us create the kind of relationship we aspire towards with all our clients. I want to treat them like I would treat my best friend.
What About If Things Go Bad?
Here’s my favorite. Your EVP contact approved months of work and now the CEO doesn’t like it, understand why you’re doing it and doesn’t think she should pay for you to redo the work to match her vision.
As hard as you try, clients have their own agendas. Scenarios like the one happen, especially as you get bigger, get bigger clients and sign larger retainers. You should be able to respond quickly and productively. Therefore, you need the direct line to the CEO. It’s not enough to hear it from your contact.
If you’re really their partner, you should be able to call the CEO and talk about what’s going on, including explaining that redoing work that’s already been done and approved does not come without additional investment.
My secret to these challenging conversations—let them talk first and let them talk until they’re done talking. This usually lets them get it all out, they calm down and then I ask them to tell me how they’d like to resolve the situation. In most cases, their desired state is fair and easy to agree to. If they’re being unfair or asking for you to do too much, I ask for some time to consider their request, talk to my team and then get back to them. This gives me a chance to think about their request, get more data on what actually happened and talk to the team who might have to deliver on their request.
Again, most of the time we’re able to come to an agreement on how to proceed. It might not be everything they wanted and it might not be everything we wanted, but it’s something we can agree to. Mission accomplished. This would be impossible without a relationship with the ultimate power at the client.
Crafting great client relationships is an acquired skill. It’s difficult to find people who know how to naturally navigate situations like the ones we’re talking about in this article. You must be good at this, you have to train your team, you have to model these conversations and you have to keep an eye on your team’s ability to deliver this challenging communication.
But most importantly, you have to create the processes that allows your team to have communication and access with the people within your clients' companies who have the ultimate ability to impact the success or failure of your engagement.
Start Today Tip – It might be good practice to work through all your clients, one by one, to evaluate whether you’re talking to and working with the right person. By going through all your clients, you’ll quickly identify any clients at risk, then you can plan to reach out and connect with the top exec. It might also be good practice to start reaching out to the top person to have a regular check in. This establishes your relationship in case you need that in the future. You might also want to adjust some of your existing communication processes to be more inclusive. This could just prevent an issue before it happens.
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