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What do clients want from agencies?
2015.02.24
I talk to potential new clients every day. That’s my job. And, because of that experience, I have a massive amount of sympathy for marketers who have to select the right partner or partners for their business. Every agency has a wide variety of overlapping—but not necessarily comprehensive – strengths.

A recent Forrester report says, “Marketers struggle to understand which agencies to partner with as they ready themselves for a new approach to brand building. In the post-digital era, the term "digital" no longer clearly explains an agency's services or what it can do for marketers. Many agencies and marketing service providers have adapted or enhanced their core capabilities to include a range of digital offerings.

In other words, when we all say we’re digital, “digital” no longer has any meaning.

Marketers are figuring this out—and have already begun to consolidate. According to a survey by RSW/US, reported in MarketingProfs, “More than half (56%) of brand marketers surveyed say they have been consolidating the number of agencies they use recently, whereas 44% say they have been adding more specialty agencies.”

It’s getting more competitive out there!

So how can agencies differentiate themselves with potential clients? My answer is that we need to treat each client engagement individually. We are consultants to our clients. We need to know what each individual client needs and determine how best we can meet that need—or whether we are capable of meeting that need at all.

Those needs often come to us as questions. That’s why I recently compiled a list of questions that my team and I hear when we talk to marketers—whether they’re our current clients, people we’re presenting to, or individuals at industry events.

As an agency partner to our clients, we have a responsibility – at minimum – to know whether we can answer each of these questions. And at best, the answers should be part of our recommendations. After all, we are the experts our clients are looking to. The agency a client selects has to provide value at the beginning of the relationship—and for many future years.

Here are the questions we heard most in 2014 (in no particular order). Let’s see if this list resonates with you.

  • Am I really solving the multichannel attribution problem? (Everyone thinks they have a solution—but often the numbers don’t add up. It’s truly complicated.)
  • How can I have a unified record of all my customers? (This is the ugly underbelly of many organizations’ data issues.)
  • How do I measure direct response social media ROI?
  • How do I innovate to own the customer? (Do I need more products in order to compete?)
  • How do I get more than my fair share of our customers’ digital wallet? (And how do I get true loyalty?)
  • Did I invest in the “right” technology? (Buyer’s remorse is a huge issue when integration of new technology into legacy processes isn’t done well.)
  • When should I pay attention to new technology? (Or am I about to fall victim to Bright Shiny Object Syndrome?)
  • Technology is developing new markets. How will this benefit me?
  • How do we do more with less budget and resources? (This question will never go away.)
  • Can I build more complex campaigns efficiently? (We know how important relevance is—but can we afford it?)
  • How do I ensure my data is secure? (What might be slipping through the cracks that I’m not even aware of?)
  • How do I use my big data effectively? (Or do I even need “big” data?)
  • Is direct mail a cost-effective channel? (The mailbox has changed dramatically in recent years. Has that been a positive or negative for direct mail? Could it work for my organization?)

 

While the questions are the same among CMOs, the answers should be specific to each organization’s circumstances. As an agency, we will be prepared to make specific recommendations addressing these questions, whenever and wherever we can.

Our biggest challenge is what to pay attention to. Are we being effective? Are we fixing the real problems? That’s the way to build trust with clients.