How can agencies earn client trust? How can agencies and contractors become trusted advisers to their clients?
It’s often hard for agencies to get close enough to a client’s business objectives to have a meaningful impact, so agency professionals end up creating ‘throwaway’ work that does not have a meaningful impact on the client business.
It wasn’t a surprise when an agency MD asked us recently – “How can we get the trust of a client?” He was in a situation of having to prove his value to a client that had been steadily cutting back on her agencies marketing budget. How can agencies prove their value to a company that sees them as just another vendor?
Practical Advice on how to earn client trust
The good news for agencies is that they have a foot in the door with the company. The company has hired you because they have a problem that they feel that they are currently unable to solve.
Sometimes agencies are brought in to solve a very specific problem – bringing a new service to market or developing an email marketing strategy. For this, you’ll have a very clear idea of whether you’ve succeeded – did you deliver or didn’t you.
The downside is that projects like these don’t come around often. There’s only so many times a company is going to launch a new product, need a refresh of its email, or to execute a rebrand.
More often, you’re being brought in to solve an ongoing problem – a lack of awareness that a company even exists. Many agencies respond to this problem with a ‘campaign.’
Agencies run on campaigns – and they have an almost mythical status within agency life. Agencies make a campaign, they let it run, and then move onto the next one.
Campaigns are a bit like fast food. Clients consume them, they’re hungry, and after a while, they’re hungry again. And when they’re done, they often don’t want more of the same thing. Agencies become like McDonalds – mass produced campaigns by numbers.
When seen like this, it’s not surprising that agencies are seen as simple vendors to marketing needs.
When it comes to winning trust, improve how you measure
Typically agencies use survey data to craft a story that present’s the client’s work in a favourable light. Unfortunately, they often take the same approach to KPIs. Agencies will select the best data to demonstrate that the campaign was a success.
In the business world, this approach doesn’t fly. Proposing overly broad KPIs that are not tied to specific business challenges are a quick way to unseat your credibility in a business.
Odds are, the person that hires you will be measured on clearly defined KPIs – so you are actually making the work of your client harder by taking the ‘success theatre’ approach.
Focus on specific objectives
Instead, agencies need to craft KPIs that focus on solving specific business challenges a client is facing. If your goal is to increase sign ups to a particular service, commit to SMART objectives around that and crucially, agree to be measured on those over time.
Your goals should be
- Specific – Is the objective detailed enough to measure real-world problems and opportunities?
- Measurable – Can a quant / qual attribute be applied to create a metric?
- Actionable – Can the information be used to improve performance? If the metric doesn’t help you to increase performance, there’s little point in it.
- Relevant – Can the information be applied to a specific problem faced by the manager?
- Time Based – Can the information be constrained through time?
As a discerning agency professional, it’s your job to know which metrics are important to your company at any given moment.
Measure what matters
There are very few absolutes when it comes to getting reporting right – your client’s goals will change over time, and you will need to be responsive to this.
It’s important to remember that you won’t be able to measure everything. This makes it all the more important to define the measures that will really drive your business, and develop an automated way of reporting on them.
You won’t be able to measure everything – far from it. So it’s really important that you set measures and KPIs that can be reviewed regularly to drive your business, and develop an automated way of reporting on them.
Consistent reporting builds credibility with clients. It’s important to use a defined measurement framework to review and take action. Your client’s trust in you will grow if they always know the numbers they’re going to get. Use a defined framework that sets out what you’re going to report, why you’re reporting it, and what will determine success.
Always ensure that your KPIs are aligned to the long-term success of the business.Agencies want to see the results of your actions over a defined period. Agencies have got better at this, but too often “success” is still often defined as uplift in awareness in the two weeks after a campaign has finished.
Also make sure that dependencies between KPIs are clear – what are the further measures that will help you achieve KPIs? Cost-per-click, position on page and click-through rates are important, but do not show in themselves whether activity has achieved its core purpose.
Establish responsibility for hitting certain KPIs. If a KPI is missed, a client needs to know who they can ask about it, and what is being done about getting it fixed. That way, an agency doesn’t end up in the nightmare scenario of finding out late on it has missed its number.
It’s also important that the framework includes the right efficiency measures and the right effectiveness measures. Clients will want to know how successful each media is in meeting their business needs, and efficiency is the quality of execution in delivering a response.
When you have the right measures in place, you need to be able to distribute and review them in a top-level report or dashboard. Your client wants to be able to see the impact you had on their business.
It’s not easy to get this right
The advertising and PR industry has leant on the same practices for years, and getting out of the habit of pulling together PowerPoint presentations with ‘success metrics’ in the final stages of a campaign is going to take time.
What’s more, you may be working with clients who are not used to handing over this kind of data. But your job depends on it, so you should work hard to build a relationship with your counterpart on the client side to secure access to the data as soon as possible.
You may have to put the necessary safeguards in place for pulling the relevant levers – but the closer you can get to driving the success of your client’s business, the faster you will earn their respect.
Presenting a clear, informed plan about what you are going to track, why you’d like to track it, and when you expect to see results will help you establish the respect of your agency, and pave the way to picking up larger projects.