EP 60: Why Clients End Agency Relationships
Kelly: Welcome back to Thrive, your agency resource. Today, we’re talking about something very, very valuable in my opinion. We're answering the question: why do clients end agency relationships? And my guest today is Tricia Atkins. She's founder of Walker-Stanley Communications. Basically, a fractional integrated marketing team for small to mid-size organizations, nonprofits, things along those lines. She's based in Boulder, Colorado. She and I met at Search Con, one of the conferences out in Breckenridge several years ago and I hope you agree with this, but over the course of time, we kind of discovered that we are very much aligned in terms of personal development, really addressing our client’s needs so I want to welcome you to the show and thanks so much for being here.
Tricia: You're very welcome. Happy to be here.
Kelly: So what's interesting about this conversation is that why I felt like you were really the perfect person to have it with me is that you've really been on both sides, you've been client side, you've been agency owner side, and you've been agency side as an employee so you've really seen it from all different aspects.
Kelly: What do you believe is the reason why clients end relationships with agencies? I know you have a thought that it's kind of twofold. But what are those twofold reasons.
Tricia: Well, I think some of it is just relational. Does the client still have trust with the agency? Do they still feel the agency is competent? Can they deliver on the needs? Is their transparency? Is the agency giving the client access to accounts that the agency is built for the client? So part of it is just kind of subjective relational. The other part is more quantitative. Are they delivering the results that the company needs? Are they getting leads that they need? Are they getting the kind of social media traction or online traction that they need? So I think it is twofold.
Kelly: So I'm hearing you say relationships and ROI. It's got to be a mix of the two, right?
Tricia: Yeah absolutely.
Kelly: So one of the things that we talked about recently was the fact that there is this, we'll call it a growth gap. So as we grow as agencies, the clients that have historically been our bread and butter, the ones that we thought were ideal or the ones that would just pay us some money especially if we're early on the agency world. As we up level in terms of our agencies, those client criteria, the client demographic, what those ideal clients look like starts to change. And so, we may have some of those historically bread and butter clients that are no longer a good fit for our agencies. Nobody wants to have this conversation. So let's talk a little bit about that because I think that's pretty fascinating.
Tricia: Yeah, there's a lot of loyalty to those clients that we all got when we were first starting out. They believed in us. They invested in us. They hired us. They supported us, not only financially but also probably emotionally like they give confidence to grow the agency and expand and go, pursue that next client. So there’s loyalty there and gratitude. But at some point as you grow and as you move up market, and you start looking at your systems and your processes, and what can you deliver well and efficiently and make money at, sometimes that doesn't include those clients from the early days.
Tricia: And you still have, I think an obligation to support them well and communicate with them well that if you're not willing to continue to support them in the unique way that you did when you started, then maybe you have to have conversation about finding a new agency to support them or another way to support them without you.
Tricia: And it's tough. Like you don't want to give up on the relationship. I mean, you don't want to walk away from the relationship, for the loyalty. You don't want to walk away from the revenue even though it’s small. It’s tough. You need to have that conversation because it's your reputation as well. If you ignore and neglect them, it erodes your reputation.
Kelly: Yeah, so why I thought about this as a growth gap is because I think that it's a very important conversation to have with those legacy clients, to be honest to say we are growing and you’ve certainly helped with that growth. We want to support you in the best way and honestly the best way that we can support you might actually be to help you transition to another agency, the one that can better support you because maybe our core services have kind of evolved or maybe we're set up in a way that our pricing model is no longer going to fit your budget, whatever those conversations are, but having the respect for that client to have that really difficult conversation, I think they will appreciate it more than the angst that you might be feeling about having the conversation.
Tricia: Yeah, I'm smiling because it feels like a breakup. You're breaking up with.
Kelly: Hundred percent, one who breaks up.
Tricia: No, they don’t.
Kelly: It’s not a good feeling but the thing is you're really being compassionate in that moment and you're being respectful and you're honoring the fact that you've had this great relationship together. Hopefully, it was great. You've been through a lot of things together especially if it's a legacy client you’ve had for years and what better way to honor that than to say, you know what? We were no longer the right fit for one another but we respect you so much and we value the relationship so much that we want to help you seamlessly and hopefully flawlessly transition to someone else who can better support you.
Tricia: Yeah, it's an integrity and a communication issue.
Kelly: Yeah, so there was a webinar that you were telling me about that you had recently watched and it was about over committing and there were a couple of examples that the person who's doing the webinar kind of shared with you but I think what the takeaway for me was when you were sharing it, was how that over committing, that being that yes agency really results in a lot of stress in our lives. So I wanna hear a little bit more about that.
Tricia: Yeah, it was a brilliant point that I'm guilty of but I have never been called out on it. The guy's name is Chris Felton and he was talking about setting boundaries with clients and talking about serving them well with integrity and watching out for over committing. So if o a client comes to you and says I need this job in two days. And you know it takes you five days to deliver quality end result, you need to stand up to the client and say this is a five day job, I won’t be able to do it. This builds trust with clients because you're so committed to delivering value and a quality end result. that you have to stand up and say it's a five day turn around. And he said that over committing that we all do in our work and our personal lives creates a lot of stress. Like that’s a brilliant point. I'm so guilty of that. And they need to stop. I don't know. It's just kind of a light bulb. It was just a brilliant thought.
Kelly: One of the other things that it does on the positive side, so on the negative side it creates stress, but on the positive side what it does is it really sets more realistic expectations with that client so if you do that in that moment or when you have the difficult conversation again to say, “This is a five day turnaround. We want to deliver the highest value for you. We're proud of the work that we deliver for you and we want to continue to do that. This is the situation. It's a five day turnaround and let's be real about that.” The next time that they have something that's similar, they're gonna have that in their mind. The last time I asked for this, this agency was honest with me and said it was a five day thing so now when I requested I'm gonna say hey, I've got this thing that I need done. I know last time you said it was five days. Look at the scope. Is it going to be five days again? That's a very different way to approach it from the client side but you're the one as the agency who is serving control of that and your setting those parameters and those boundaries with the client and then setting their expectations. You're changing their behavior.
Tricia: Yeah, it’s what they call client management.
Kelly: Client management training.
Tricia: But it also creates respect. They're not going to treat you like a commodity.
Tricia: Like you're just whatever engine for whatever digital marketing. And we all know the damage. The damage of over-committing and under-delivering is real.
Kelly: Yeah, absolutely, drives your team crazy. They come to work and they've got their to do list or whatever it is maybe you're an agile agency and you’ve got sprint, whatever it is. You can't mess up that work flow. I mean, your people want to be focused and deliver good work. They want to be proud of what they're doing and you as the agency leader or manager or whoever is agreeing to these crazy timelines, you’re driving your team crazy and you're gonna actually noticed more employee attrition because of it because they don't feel like their work and their time is being respected. They feel like it's being controlled just because you want to make a client happy and there's no real good that comes out of about.
Tricia: Yes, absolutely true.
Kelly: So one of the things as we were starting to wrap up here is we have to realize who we are as agencies, right? Like what purpose do we serve or how do we fit in with our clients? So agencies become this sort of extension of the marketing team. So as agencies, we also need to start developing the self-awareness of really tapping into understanding are we delivering the value, are we continuing to support our primary contact in that marketing department making them look like the rock star, are we doing all of those things? If we feel at any point in that situation where I don't know if we're really doing that like I can't believe the client hasn't brought up that to us yet that they're not happy. I can't believe that they're satisfied with what's been going on because we know intuitively that we're not giving them the same attention that we used to give them when we were younger or smaller agency. So being on both sides of it, client and agency side, what's the best piece of advice that you would give, maybe these agency readers who are listening and watching to this. What's the best piece of advice that you would give to really change that or to become more self-aware?
Tricia: Yeah, Kelly you raised a really good point. I think if you have an inkling that you're not delivering a level that you know you should be, then the client probably knows it too. You're probably picking that up from the client. They just haven't had that discussion with you.
Kelly: And they may not until they're firing you.
Tricia: Yeah, for sure. But I think you also raised a really good point about what exactly does the client need. There’s the quantitative piece that we started out this conversation with like are you delivering, whatever it is, the social, the web, the strategy, there’s metrics.
Kelly: There’s metrics though. ROI.
Tricia: Yeah, there's that whole piece but there's also a piece about your primary contact and what do they need and a lot of times it might not be marketing. It might be making them look good at their next executive presentation. It might be helping them figure out, find resources for another piece of their business. When you really stop and look at, and get to know them in a very intentional level and consider are they completely overwhelmed, then don't go and just deliver a bunch of here’s a to-do list, let me add to your plate. How can I support you in ways that are kind of beyond the obvious? So appreciate your client from where they sit. What's on the plate? Are they dealing with personal issues? Is the company being acquired or sold? There's a lot of other dynamics. They don't think about marketing for you 24/7. The way you might think about them. You were not up and their top priority. We’re just a piece of the puzzle. So try to think about your client from where they sit and what does their world look like and how can you come alongside them and serve them well and support them.
Kelly: Yeah. And that reminds me of just really in depth and really good buyer persona development, like understanding what's important to these people, what's their mindset, what's their motivation, how could you best support them in their role, how could you take things off of your plate. But at the end of this, I really feel like what you're saying is that it's not just about checking in with your clients and with your primary contacts, it's about being really intentional about it. Not coming to that situation or that phone call or sending an email where you're trying to covertly upsell them on something like oh what other projects do you have down the pipeline. It's really about being intentional about it and what does that check in, what is that phone call or in person meeting or video call, what does that sound like to you having been on the client side?
Tricia: Yeah, I feel like it's a very honest and transparent, intentional phone call. Sometimes without being scheduled and it definitely doesn't have any other business agenda items attached to it. Simply I'm checking in how are things going, are we supporting you well, are we delivering the value that you need, is there anything else we can do, because to get back to the beginning of the call, a lot of times the client doesn't want to have the difficult conversation either. So by checking in a few times a year and really this is across all industries. Your financial advisors should be doing it. The marketing people should be doing it. All sorts of consultants should be checking in with a client and just how are you doing, is there anything else we can do. That kind of discussion.
Kelly: Yeah, well this is great, super, super valuable. I think hopefully we can save a couple of relationships or at least help some of these agency leaders who are thinking about this and realizing that with upleveling of their agency, with growth, there is this gap and maybe this is certainly a way that they can either support the client better or help them transition out. So thank you so much for the conversation today. I really appreciate it.