With the decline of the agency of record (AOR) model and the median tenure of CMOs at major U.S. consumer brands having fallen to less than three years, conventional wisdom says that client-agency relationships have a natural “lifespan.” I often hear agency leaders say it’s about three years. Get in, do good work, make some money, then move on. Churn. Burn. Repeat.
But when you consider all the cost and effort that goes into winning a new client, isn’t it worth it to build a relationship that can last? And isn’t it more rewarding to invest in a client’s long-term success?
One of my agency’s clients has gone through three ownership changes, three CEOs and a host of marketing leaders in the seven years we’ve worked with them. We’ve never been their agency of record (they don’t have one). I know there are no guarantees that this relationship will endure, but the relationship’s longevity is not an accident.
Here are seven ways we build resilient client-agency relationships that keep our clients coming back for more.
Measure As You Go
At the start of every project, give your clients a vision of how it will succeed. Then, as much as you possibly can, document and demonstrate that success with data.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we took on a new client that wanted help with their website. With in-store sales flatlining, they desperately needed to do better online. I told them that their new website would grow their online revenue by improving their lackluster conversion rates, and I immediately started tracking this data so I could prove it.
Bring Them Ideas They Didn’t Ask For
Don’t just do the project you were hired to do. Bring clients new opportunities for growth that will support their goals and vision. Surprise and delight with ideas that are unexpected, thoughtful and fun.
Research your ideas well before you present them and demonstrate that you understand their business. Suggesting something risky is perfectly fine, but present it with solid risk analysis and measurable rewards.
This isn’t simply upselling. It’s showing your client that you’re thinking more broadly about their business success even during the hours you aren’t paid to do so.
Build Relationships Beyond The Account Manager And CMO
A client-agency relationship is fragile when it’s mostly between an agency account manager and a client CMO. For a resilient relationship, find opportunities for everyone on your team to work directly with the client. And build relationships beyond the CMO — with their internal marketing team, the CEO, and anyone else who might later advocate for your agency.
Your deeper collaboration with the client will help you do better work. And when leadership changes or new contract decisions come along, you’ll be that whole team of people who everyone has collaborated with and (hopefully) likes.
Create Raving Fans
Develop and nurture lasting relationships with the people who love your work most. Understand what they need and help them succeed. Lift them up and invite them to share in your successes.
When I’m asked to give an interview to a media outlet, I look for opportunities to brag about my clients or even pitch them as additional sources. When I’m asked to speak at conferences, I often propose to bring my clients onstage with me for the conversation. I try to evangelize for my clients, to lift them up as they lift me.
These raving fans become your best ambassadors and advocates. They’ll protect your longevity with existing clients and help you win new clients too.
Partner With Their Vendors
Work well with your client’s other vendors so that, together, you can serve the client better. Go beyond basic coordination of services. Get to know them if you can. Become a key part of a collaborative team, not just another isolated and replaceable service.
As a bonus, you may find that the other vendors bring you new work with their clients. (And you should do the same for them.)
My agency has developed strong working relationships with several specialty digital service providers, including an online ticketing service, restaurant menu and ordering services, and a highly respected WordPress-managed host. With these partners, we’re able to offer clients comprehensive, integrated solutions, and each of us works to help the others succeed.
Surpass With The Sequel
With each new client project, ask yourself: “How can the sequel outperform our previous success?”
One of my agency’s clients wanted to build a promotion around a branded national holiday. The first year, we did a photoshoot and developed some new digital content. The next year, we secured a relevant URL for them and got them up to No. 3 on search results for the event. This year, we pitched them a branded video game.
Complacency will kill any client-agency relationship. No matter how well your client loved your previous work, doing more of the same won’t be good enough. Show them that there’s still more to your agency than what they already know. Entice them to stick with you and see what else you can do.
Above All, Show Them You Care
Do you care about your clients’ success? About the profitability of their companies, the achievement of their purposes and the well-being of their people? Let your clients see that you love what you do. Show them that their success means a lot to you.
I love helping my clients tell their stories. I care a great deal about the people I serve. I want them to succeed and do well. These are meaningful relationships to me, and that’s something my clients know.
If you feel the same about your clients, dare to tell them. Commit to showing them, over and over. It may be what keeps the relationship going for many more years to come.