Make More Happen

4 Tips to Forge Winning Client Relationships for the Long-Term

4 Tips to Forge Winning Client Relationships for the Long-Term

Apple, the Apple logo and iPhone are trademarks of Apple Inc., registered in the U.S. and other countries.

Image credit: Picjumbo
  • ---Shares

As a service-based business, while landing new clients is a critical part of the mix, relationships built and nurtured over time is where the real juice is -- offering a level of stability and scaleability that's essential to long-term health and success.

Such relationships take care and feeding and are built on more than just a single campaign or project win. They’re the output of trust, partnership and a track record of producing stellar work together. As former marketing leaders for global F500 brands, we were once the clients ourselves, and we've found this perspective and insight to be invaluable in how we approach these relationships for our own agency. 

No matter what industry you’re in, the following 4 principles provide a great foundation for creating long and beautiful partnerships.

Related: 4 Warning Signs Your Brand Is a Terrible Teacher

1. Take a big-picture view

Many agencies and consultants have such a laser focus on their discipline, they ignore the larger sphere in which their client operates. 

If, as a marketer, you don’t understand how customer service works within your client’s business, you might come up with an amazing idea that will at best fall flat and at worst create internal challenges and headaches. It’s your job to get smart on the essentials of their business -- from brand perception to corporate reputation to sales channels -- even operational challenges. 

What does your client need from you to help them move things forward internally? 

While part of your role as an agency is to push your clients to think bigger, to be an effective partner, first you must understand the landscape in and sensitivities around which they operate so you're able to make informed recommendations that align with broader business goals. Your client should see you as a true strategic partner and feel like you have their best interests at heart.

2. Commit to honesty and transparency

Agencies love the big reveal, sometimes to their own detriment -- and that of their client. 

Imagine how your client looks when you present your big idea to their boss, and it totally misses the mark. We know from years of experience that the strongest client relationships are the ones that include ongoing communication between agency and brand. Each and every step of the way, they're determining achievable goals and KPIs together, flagging challenges as they arise and ensuring that all details are communicated effectively to prevent unnecessary surprises and set up everyone for success.

It’s worth having the hard conversations up front, whether that means spending extra time negotiating a contract that does right by all parties, delivering realistic and transparent budget estimates or admitting to a mistake and delivering the plan for fixing it. Your mother was right: Honesty is always the best policy -- and it tells your client that you're in for the long haul.

Related: It's Not Me, It's You: When to End a Toxic Client Relationship

3. Be a good listener and a great advisor

Brands hire agencies for a reason.

Whether to bring forth best-in-class ideas and campaign concepts, to make up for stretched-too-thin internal bandwidth or to manage the nuances of a complex program, this partnership is a considered investment. Yet we see it time and time again: The brand hires an agency for a fresh approach, gets more of the same and is left feeling deflated or like they didn’t get their money’s worth.

We can’t underscore it enough. Brands aren’t looking for a rubber stamp agency. They’re looking for a strategic partner who knows when to raise a hand or offer a different solution -- even taking them out of their comfort zone at times. They need a team with demonstrated expertise beyond their own, who can guide them to the best approach against their objectives and spend.

Listen closely, read between the lines and help your clients get clear on what they’re ultimately looking to achieve...and then give them your best thinking on how to get there. While not always the path of least resistance, we guarantee that this approach will pay dividends over time.

4. Go the extra mile

In addition to providing world-class services, one of the less-talked-about roles of an agency is to position your client contact for success internally. Provide the support and resources that your client needs to be able to sell in programs, manage expectations upstairs and deliver amazing results internally. Whether that means providing more detailed strategies or post-campaign analytics or investing extra team time to vet additional options, going the extra mile will always pay off in the end. 

And be willing to play nice with others. Many of our clients have a range of marketing agencies they work with. These clients are most successful when their marketing programs work in concert and this means the agencies being willing to work together vs. engaging in a land grab for more budget. We're often the first to suggest bringing in other agencies when a big idea is on the table and it has raised eyebrows more than once. It's what we did when we were on the client side and though some partners can be pushier than others, it's still the right thing to do. 

And doing the right thing often leads to the best thing -- for you, the client and the relationship.

Related: How to Stop the Time Suck of Customer Relationships