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Want to keep your client (or agency)? Avoid these 5 real-life relationship pitfalls

by Neil Follett - June 11, 2019

The client/agency relationship seems to be coming under increased pressure these days, with a recent report knocking the average (yeah, average) lifespan down to a shockingly short 2.5 years! Remember when we used to get along, as complicated as it all was? Remember when the name was “partner” and not “vendor”?

As the owner of an agency, I value the relationships we have with our clients. Sure, one might say that I need to, given clients are what sustains the business (not many successful client-less agencies!). But I also value them because there is value in them. We need each other. When we click, we can do great things together. And when we communicate, challenges are overcome and creativity can flow.

Contemplating the client/agency relationship crisis, I started thinking about another kind of relationship, the real one. The big M. Marriage. A relationship takes work. It takes patience. And the work can really pay off. The happiest couples are often the ones who went through tough times and came out the other side stronger for it, not the ones who quit and just started swiping right .

So, Neil, what is all the marriage talk about and how does it have anything to do with running an agency? Let’s look at a few of the top reasons for divorce, and you’ll see!

1 – Infidelity. Duh. Want to keep your client? Stay true to them. Treat them like you did when you first met. Don’t take them for granted. Definitely don’t start spending time with that new client and make them jealous! I constantly ask my team “how would we be doing this if we just won the business”?

2 – Money. Damn right! Money is complicated. Don’t let money problems be your downfall! Be transparent, spend wisely, and talk often. Justify your bills with value, lots and lots of value. If you can’t justify your spend clearly, then it isn’t justifiable.

3 – Unrealistic expectations. Hmm, that never comes up, does it? Set and manage expectations open and honestly. Don’t commit to things you can’t do, and don’t pretend that you have capabilities that you don’t. If you are stretching it, tell your client, let them support you… and you’ll both go into a project better prepared and come out stronger for it.

4 – Constant arguing.That sucks in any relationship! If things are getting tense with your client, pause. Set a separate call and recognize that things feel off, ask how the client is feeling, and given them space to talk – you’ll be surprised at how much you might learn! Even better, if you sense or know it is your fault, start with an apology and take ownership! I also say to the team, “talk as often with the client about ‘how’ we are doing as you talk to them about ‘what’ we are doing”. It can get really functional and a bit cranky when you are in the thick of it, a well-timed call can change all that.

5 – Weight gain. I’ll have 4 extra people at the meeting please! Seriously, we can get a little bloated at times. Everyone wants a seat at the table, and every seat costs money. If you have people in a meeting who aren’t contributing, they should either be taking notes (and you should tell the client why they are attending) or they shouldn’t be there. Let’s be lean and nimble. “I really wish my agency piled on more people who aren’t adding value” said no client, ever.

(Dear client-side person who might be reading this, I trust you can flip the script and see where there is space for us all to improve a little!)

No relationship is perfect, and every single one requires work, but by applying some real-life lessons I believe you can be on the winning side of the 2.5 year average!


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