Business Development Relationships

My Eyes Are Up Here

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"As someone who is currently seeking opportunities, I’ve been surprised at the number of agencies who ask the same interview question. “Which companies do you have relationships with, that you could bring on board if we were to hire you?” Of course, we all recognize that marketing is indeed a relationships business, but in some cases, this question might point to concerns about an agency’s overall business health. Here’s why.

  1. Talent valued on their network, not their skill
  2. Weak pipeline reliant on buying new business through talent acquisition
  3. Agency value proposition not attractive to clients
  4. New business approach not based on strategic inbound / outbound process

This has implications for both talent and agencies.

For talent, it means that your network has tremendous value. Potentially more value than your talents in some cases. Make sure that you build and nurture your business relationships all the time. Above all, protect them. Do not be the person who exploits your network for agency or personal gain. This thinly-veiled approach often leads to the diminishing and devaluation of your network. Certainly, if there is authentic agency value that will honestly help a client solve business problems or exploit opportunities, you should foster that partnership. However, without that, you risk destroying this highly-valued asset. It also means, you should work to ensure the agency you are working for values your skills and contributions beyond your network.

For agencies, it means you might need to evaluate your value proposition, culture, and business development approach. It’s important to understand and clearly articulate your unique value and selling proposition. Secondly, make sure you are hiring talent that contributes to the growth of your business beyond the relationships they hold. This will build a culture of long-term sustainable growth. Finally, evaluate your business development process to ensure it is not based on a dude with a rolodex. This is short term, self-destructive thinking. This experiment ends after a year to 18 months, with some new business won, but that business quickly exiting along with the talent, or frustration with a partnership built on a relationship only, without business value backing it up.

Talent matters.

Relationships matter.

A sustainable approach to business development matters.

I have been fortunate to have a number of clients who have indeed followed me across agencies. More importantly, I’ve followed them through their career. Not to leverage their business for gain, but to find new ways in which I can help them. So how do I answer the question, “Which companies do you have relationships with, that you could bring on board if we were to hire you?” All of them, provided there is an authentic way the agency can solve their problems and add value to their opportunities. Now, let’s talk about what I can do to improve your new business approach.

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Relationships

Client Service – You’re Doing it Wrong

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"There was a time, not long ago, when event and experiential marketers were simply order takers. A brand would call the agency, or submit a RFP, and the agency would respond with creative, renderings, process and pricing that met the client’s request. If the agency had the lowest price, or the coolest creative, or had the most relevant case studies, or met each specification perfectly, the agency would be hired for the project. If they did a good job, they might be invited back to another RFP or do another project with that brand.

We’ve seen the pendulum swing from project-based work, to retained relationships and back to projects again. This is not an accident. Certainly, increased competition and the rise and evolution of procurement has played a role, however, I believe there is something more at play here. In a word, it’s complacency. Agencies are not innovating, delivering value beyond the ask, or building deep, meaningful relationships with their clients. As a result of this, the gap created is filled by the promise of another agency, who at the time appears hungrier, and is promising the world to a complacent client.

This is expensive on both sides of the equation. Brands lose out because they need to invest in bringing a new agency up to speed before they deliver the value they were promised, which seems to coincide with the agency’s peak and performance plateau leading to the next agency cycle. Agencies lose out because the need to pursue yet another client to replace the brand they lost due to under-servicing — which is far more expensive than keeping the business in the first place.

In the past, the role of an Account Director was to manage the relationship with the client, handle financial matters, and ensure the wheels stayed on the bus from design to execution back of house. The Account Director’s greatest value was managing expectations between client and agency, occasionally yelling at their team, or talking the client off the ledge when something went awry.

Today, client services is so much more than that. On one side of the equation, the Account Director needs to be a strategic consultant – adding demonstrable value to the client at every turn. Relationship management has evolved into driving partnerships. They need to be experts in the client’s business, be the voice of the target audience, the ambassador of the agency, be organizationally savvy, and prove that “sell” is not a four letter world when it means true value to the client. On the other side of the equation, Account Directors must be the voice of the client, drive the strategic and creative process, hold production accountable, and fight for what is right with agency management each and every day. Not to mention, managing the process, financials and driving agency growth along the way. If a client / agency relationship is not growing, it’s dying.

Here are five thoughts and ideas for building and growing world-class partnerships.

  1. Change your alignment. As a Client Services professional, your job is not to “service” the account. It’s to get the client promoted. Understand their personal goals, challenges, and opportunities, and use this understanding to help them succeed.
  2. Build a partnership. Too many agencies fall into the trap of thinking a relationship with a brand is predicated upon a single contact. Most enterprises are built upon the talents of thousands of individuals. If you are doing your job as described in point #1, you are making your client look good, and in turn, building relationships higher in the organizational structure. Take a 3×3 approach, and understand who the three people above and beside each client is. Build a plan to create those relationships. Repeat. Your relationship map should grow exponentially in the course of a year. Additionally, everyone who touches the clients’ business from executives to administrative support should be known by the client. Make sure everyone has a role and a contact they are responsible for building a relationship with.
  3. Know your client’s business. The Bedford Group’s whitepaper, “Client/Agency Relationship Sustainability” states one of the nine reasons clients quit is lack of interest or understanding of the client’s business. Read their annual reports and financial statements. Study their industry. Observe what their competition is doing. Know the dynamics of their business and market.
  4. Add strategic value. The highest valued element an agency can provide to their client according to “The State of the Agency-Client Relationship” by SoDA, is Strategic Leadership. If you understand their business, you can proactively come up with ideas that add value to your client and relationship far better than the vacuum cleaner salesperson’s approach (we’ve got these vacuums, wanna buy one?). In some cases, it even sparks growth in agency services or offerings, and allows you to sell something different. Taking a problem solving or opportunity exploiting approach allows for true innovation. Sometimes simply sharing perspectives on things that are successful in other industries or marketing disciplines creates value.
  5. Be accountable. According to Forbes, when asked what recent changes in marketing influenced them the most, 55% of clients pointed to growing demands for “accountability” as the main factor, with increased scrutiny of results by the CEO and the board.  Yet accountability is their main area of frustration with agencies — 71% point to it as the area that agencies need to improve most. Ensure all work the agency delivers on behalf of a client has a clear view to what success looks like. Create agreed-upon measurable objectives and KPIs and own the responsibility of delivering against these. Also, have regular (quarterly) agency reviews which are as much about measuring the relationship, as they are about measuring the performance of the work. Have metrics in place that hold both the client and the agency accountable for the relationship, with clear rules of engagement at the beginning of the process, and specific action plans to mitigate challenges and repeat / amplify best practices.

There’s a start. Of course there are many other elements to professional client service, but evolving from order-taker to trusted-advisor will help create, build, grow and retain client agency relationships, and create sustainable value for both.

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Talent

Who’s on Your Laminated List?

brand, "brand experience", conferences, "digital marketing", "engagement marketing", "entertainment marketing", "event marketing", events, experiences, "experience marketing", "experiential marketing", marketing, "social media", "trade shows"No, I’m not talking about the list of five celebrities you could sleep with regardless of your relationship status. I’m talking about the five people you’ve met or worked with professionally, that if you started your own company, you would hire.

For new professionals just starting their career, it might be their current squad of coworkers, or friends they made in school. For seasoned professionals, it may be the best-of-the-best – those people you’ve been in the trenches with and can depend on in good times and in bad.

For me it’s:

    1. The Financial Pro who doesn’t live in a spreadsheet. They see beyond the numbers and understand the opportunity of investment, but keep grounded in reality. A true partner in building business and recognizing value.
    2. The Strategist with an incredible academic pedigree who sees the world through an objective lens. Intellectually curious. Life-long learner. Intuitively knows what makes people tick emotionally and rationally. Knows brands, marketplaces and business like no other. Becomes the unwavering voice of the audience and the brand.
    3. The Creative Director who is a student of the world. Music, sports, arts and culture are the paints used on a human canvas. Creating art where there was none. Compromises on occasion, but stands up for their work. Truly motivates people on a profound level. Understands the business value of their craft.
    4. The Producer who knows how to get anything done, and if they don’t, they find a way to work in the white space and engineer not just solutions, but opportunities. They understand all the elements of experience and partner well with the rest of the team to make dreams become reality.
    5. The Relationship Builder – not the traditional rolodex-toting schmoozer. Good-in-a-room, but more importantly, good-in-life. The person who clients come to when they have both opportunities and problems. Their hands are dirty. They are part of the process from beginning to end and beyond. They drive relationships and business naturally and organically.
    6. BONUS: The Partner. I’ve been fortunate to work with a few clients throughout my career who I can depend on (and who depend on me) to advise each other on this journey. Marketers who have followed me from agency-to-agency and I have followed from brand-to-brand. This is where the magic of breakthrough strategy and creative have met tangible business results. The kind of people who will call you on the weekend to talk about an idea that might have nothing to do with what you’re currently working on together.

These are in no particular order, and of course there are many others. I’ve found keeping the list to five or six (or even fewer) really helps you think about who you value the most (and who values you) in any given situation. Whether it’s starting a company, planning a social activity or surviving the zombie apocalypse. 🙂

The names of the above have been held in confidence to protect the innocent. But you know who you are guys. Thank you.

Finally, who would put you on their “Laminated List”? Whatever your craft or vocation, in my experience, striving to fulfill and exceed the value expected from your role, and building life-long relationships with the people you touch will lead to a fulfilling and successful career.

 

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