It’s an old cliché, but still true: to win and keep accounts, you have to be willing to go the extra mile for the client. And not only do you have to be willing to work, you just have to get in there and take care of things.
Yes, we know, every day you and your people are in the trenches, researching, pitching, growing the business, putting out fires, making changes and dealing with the multiple personalities that come attached to every account. Every day you put your head down, pick up your phone, grab your laptop, throw paperwork in your briefcase, get in your car and get to work with your clients. You are so busy, how could you possibly fit even more into the confines of any given day? How can you manage to go one extra city block, let alone a mile?
Fortunately, there are some basic tactics you can apply to keep going that extra mile: moving beyond everyday, entrenched behavior patterns to keep your client relationships moving forward. These tactics involve going above and beyond the norm.
Out-think yourself, and the client – Try to think ahead of the client, and put yourself where their thoughts will be before they get there. To do this, you have to understand your own limitations and tendencies. Instead of putting your head down and diving into your normal routine, pick up your chin, look out the window and ponder; “what am I not doing for Client X that I could be doing to make the relationship better… stronger… closer?”
It may sound corny, but it’s easy to lose the personal amid the daily jangle of technology and competing demands. It’s also very easy to begin to view the client as a collective hit list of competing demands and timeframes… instead of as a group of individuals with individual needs—and sometimes competing and conflicting needs. Give some thought every week to those individuals. What are their interests? What are their needs? What do they want? What do they expect? What makes each and every one of them tick?
Spending time each day and week out-thinking the client, sizing up where they (and their expectations) are going, is a long-term strategy that will yield insights and success as you pitch new projects and jobs going forward. It allows you to visualize and predict their reactions when you interact, and better prepares you to respond to them. You’ll be able to go the extra mile without even leaving your chair.
Out-strategize and out-plan – Always have at least two business strategies ready and bubbling on the back burner. Instead of rushing to put out fires, consider where those fires might be likely to pop up, and be ready. Your clients will appreciate the fact that you already have a contingency plan in place. The “always ready” agency thinks through the strategies that clients will need to make their businesses better this year, next year, and five years down the road. And make sure you let them know that you are thinking in a long-term way. “Here’s the plan for the coming year, which builds on your five-year strategy…” This provides concrete proof that you’re in it for the long haul, not just for a quick buck.
Out-maneuver the competition – Welcome to the old business-as-chess game, but with a new twist. Instead of pitting yourself against the client’s competitors and approaching the whole business as a battle, use those opposing forces as leverage to propel yourself and your client way out ahead. You know your client, know their business climate, know the competition. Put all that knowledge to use every time you do a client project or program. Having solid plans and strategies in place allows you and the client to act in a unified manner: you all know where you are going next, you can better predict where the business and the competition are headed…and you and the client can get there first. Then you won’t have to go into battle; the high ground will be yours to defend.
Out-service (in an outstanding way) – Great service is a long-held tradition in the agency business. If agencies do not provide outstanding service and nurture their clients, they tend not to stay in business very long. However, when great service becomes the norm, great agencies have to kick it up a few notches. Show your clients that you appreciate them every time you have any contact. Show them some love, and show them that you care. Get to know them professionally, their likes and dislikes (i.e., know what colors and design styles they enjoy).
Also get to know them personally, so you know who they are in real life. Spend a little social time together. Hold an agency-client lunch in your lobby, or a group pizza or golf outing. Invite clients to your company picnic or annual holiday cocktail party. This helps to bond them with your agency people and builds friendships as well.
Please do yourself a great service, too: make absolutely sure agency people know “who’s who” in the worlds of all of your clients. Educate your staff—they’ll appreciate getting emails and news links about the clients they serve. Encourage your staff to read client websites and social media postings so they become familiar with client people and their positions. Also encourage agency staff to contact client staff as appropriate to discuss job-related issues. The more positive personal contacts your clients have with your agency staff, the better. This helps the relationship develop on multiple levels.
Out-perform the norm! Make sure you “more than” deliver. By all means, stick to your delivery dates. The client should never have to hold your hand to make sure a job is done properly and on time. If that happens, they’ll be holding you by the hand as they lead you out the door!! Get good input early in the job process, and build on that input with regular communication. Make sure that everyone is on the same page with regard to expected results: What should this project or program achieve? How will that be quantified? How will results be measured?
As you near a due date, be especially conscientious with communications; make sure that the job is proceeding to, and hopefully well above, client expectations. As work on a big project nears the end, use the opportunity to work closely with your clients, strengthening the bond as you work toward a common goal. Keep things as lighthearted and fun as possible; even if a job involves hard work and long hours, those hours can be “all good”… just like your client relationships!