A New Order: Turning Clients into Partners

This complex digital world where continuous innovation and optimization are daily requirements has made our executive team think a lot about our organization. Specifically the Account Service team or as we call it Partnership Services. We think it is time to move beyond the basic client agency relationship.

I was recently reading about a model developed by Scott Brinker about Marketing Management. Specifically about how optimization and innovation play across various disciplines. Thinking about this through the lens of account and project management, we see mostly functionaries that are either skilled at managing a piece of business or at managing the execution of a campaign. Neither, in our opinion, is currently optimized. We started to think about what our vision could be. We’d like to see the team grow beyond those skill.
​We ​sets by combining them and adding additional expertise. We want them to be seamless when it comes to understanding Brand Management, Project Management, User Experience, Technology, Data and Analysis. Our grand vision – eROI’s Partner Ambassadors – will be catalysts for new thinking and innovation. Business people who create markets for ideas and then drive the execution and optimization of those ideas. They will be able to talk business, strategy, design, development and production. We believe, if done well, the client/agency partnership is where innovation, optimization and collaboration can thrive.
We think we’re on to something and now know need to figure out how to build a better model to mentor, manage and support it. To start, we challenged ourselves to articulate what we as an agency think we know about Account and Project Management. We hope to identify gaps and go on from there to finalize our new model.
Heres the Top Ten.

1. Help your client solve their problems.

It should never be about selling. It should always be about finding out what our partners problems and challenges are and then figuring out how the agency can help to solve them. Building a great partnership is about solving problems. Add to that- innovative work that solves problems and you’ve hit it out of the park.

2. Clients want you to walk in their shoes.

While this sounds rather simple, I assure you it is not. At the core you have to understand that what we refer to as “a partner” doesn’t mean it is singular. That is to say, there is more than one relationship to understand and navigate within a client partnership. The political environment that all parties are dealing with within their respective companies exponentially increases the complexity of the partnership. The big lesson here is that you need to be aware of all of it and strategically decide what you need pay attention to and when. This part moves. All the time.
For instance, if they are an owner chances are they are under lots of financial pressure to succeed. If they are employees they may be trying to impress their boss or colleagues. Think about who you’re working with and what their motivations are. Figure out how you can make sure you understand their world, their personal challenges and drivers and then work to help support their efforts at every turn. That’s how you move clients to partners.

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Working cat

3. It’s not about you, it’s about what you can do for them.

A great piece of business advice is simply get out of your own way. There is no room for ego in advertising – it’s blinding. It’s not about proving yourself, your achievements or popularity. What it boils down to is the work. The sooner you focus your energies on the client partnership, the quicker you’ll figure out their problem and figure out how to help solve it.

4. Agree on goals. What does success look like?

As an agency, being fired can be one of the worst events to endure especially if you haven’t done the due diligence to develop goals and objectives. You’ll end up with nothing to say. No proof points to support your point of view. It will be painful. Remember, you will never know if your client partner is satisfied with your work unless you agree upon some goals beforehand and plan how you’ll measure them. That brings up an important point. Goals are directional, objectives are measurable. If you can’t measure it then it isn’t an objective its a goal. The two can’t be swapped.


5. Be pro-active not reactive.

A lot of work that comes to the agency can be pretty prescriptive. Eg. We need a website. This is so critical and truly where Account Management and Project meet in the middle. Never just assume that what your client is asking is really what they need to solve their business problems or challenges. See advise # 1 above. We live by the why model. Ask it at least 3 times. If at the end of your why session there is still a very valid reason then you’re good to go. If not, wait for advise # 7 to figure out what to do next. Beyond that, think about how to bring new ideas, thoughts and suggestions to help your client partners with their role or business. Show initiative. They don’t have to cost much but it’ll show that you are thinking about their business.

6. Don’t take it personally.

There is danger in limiting your contacts. When one person on either side of the relationship changes, the whole relationship can change. Pay attention and understand what role they play within the organization. The squeaky wheels can sometimes cause a lot of problems so make sure you identify them and figure out what their challenges or problems are and help them out. Sometimes there just won’t be a good personality fit. Recognize that one early and call it and make it about the work not the personalities. Work to get the right fit as soon as you can.

7. Listen.

Ask questions before offering opinions. Try to share your opinions through experiences. It will prove how important listening truly is. It takes time to really be able to hear all the clues within a conversation. Take great notes. Put your partner conversations in writing for everyone to reference later. Don’t write a book – you don’t need to have everyone relive the event you just need them to be aware of and understand the ask. Listen to ALL the clues and be succinct. Most of all, if you agree to something you absolutely, positively must deliver.

8. Treat the clients money like your own.

It is funny to me how many people have issues when it comes to talking about money. We’ve all heard “spend their money as careful as you would your own”. Well, of course. But, beyond that be proactive in managing the money. What we mean is, pay attention to your Scope of Work. Whether you have an hourly pricing model or more of a value pricing model spend the time to set up proper tracking and manage it. Don’t wait until there is a problem to discuss money. Make it a weekly or at the very least monthly event with your client partner. Be clear about where you are in the project and what that means financially. No one likes surprises.

9. Make friends with your clients.

An agency loses business because the client doesn’t trust you any more to solve their problems. It’s very hard to fire a friend. You must continually build and grow business relationships within your partnerships. Be careful how far you go. Find out about their interests, their family, their hobbies and engage with them. Don’t get too deep into the personal side of the relationship. Don’t overshare. Remember there is a line you need to draw. Understand that when it comes to delivering the work, your friend may cut you some slack but would much rather that you deliver 110%. Never take advantage of the relationship.

10. Be organized.

Organization is typically the project management piece – resourcing, scheduling, monitoring. All absolutely critical skills and so necessary to be effective. But ironically, it can’t be the focus. Too many digital agencies have gone there and we know that is short-sighted. While organization and process are critical for efficiency, more importantly, they are necessary to allow an environment for innovation. Innovation can’t happen if the basics aren’t organized. Thus we’re big believers in the term “controlled chaos”. That is where amazing work happens.

Expect to see more on this topic as we work through our model. We’d love to hear your perspective as well.

About eROI

eROI crafts compelling digital experiences across email, web, and social channels. Our work has been consistently successful in driving revenue and exceeding goals for our partners.

1417 NW Everett St. Suite 300
Portland, Oregon 97209 United States
(503) 221-6200
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