Friday, November 8, 2013

Do You Know Enough About Our Client’s Business To Provide Insights And Solutions?

While sorting through and cleaning up some old files, I ran across this email that I sent to my staff a few years ago. The purpose was to inspire them to provide better service and better communications solutions to our clients. The thoughts in this memo are still truths for any advertising. public relations or marketing services agency, so I hope you can gain something from reading this.

Memo to Staff:

A few years ago, we drafted a statement of purpose for the agency. We said that our goal is to be an indispensable source of insights and communications solutions to help our clients meet their business objectives. In every new business presentation we make, that statement is displayed prominently and discussed at length. It’s something we use to set our agency apart from other agencies. And it does.

A quick review of other agencies around town reveals these statements of purpose for some of our chief competitors – “we create ideas for clients who believe in the power of inventive thinking”; “art that inspires action”, and “the critical stage agency” (whatever that means). I don’t mean to put down what other agencies say is their reason for being. But I do think our statement of purpose is more direct and more powerful in what it says about us to a client or prospect.

What we are saying is that we provide something to help our clients grow their business – insights and communications solutions. Webster defines insight as “the ability to see and understand clearly the inner nature of things”. Think about that. We’re promising to go beyond the obvious and find out something special about our clients and their business. To provide insight, we’ve got to truly understand our client’s business. And that leads me back to my original question. Do we know enough about our client’s business to provide insights and solutions?

According to a recent survey among senior-level client people, that’s the number one complaint clients have with their agency. In the survey by Citigate and GfK Custom Research, “C-suite” executives were asked to judge the agencies that handle their advertising, public relations and marketing services. The biggest gripe (voiced by 42% of respondents) was that the agencies “fail to demonstrate an understanding of their business.” That’s a pretty damning statistic! Almost half of the clients’ key decision makers think their agency doesn’t really understand their business. By the way, these same executives had other complaints about their agencies. Thirty-six percent said that agencies make them feel like they are “just another number” without giving them enough attention. Other common complaints: agencies are too expensive (33 percent), lack creativity (32 percent) and don’t provide the right staff (25 percent).

These are also important things to know about how clients feel about their agencies. But I really want us to focus on the “understanding their business” issue, because that is what can separate us from other agencies. 

I’ve always felt that the secret to building a strong client relationship is to live their business. During my career, I’ve ridden a Sunbeam bread truck at 3 a.m., worked out in a sweat room at Procter & Gamble to test Secret Anti-Perspirant, toured a NAPA brake plant, picked oranges for Florida’s Natural, worked in a Slim Jim slaughter house, and baked Papa John’s pizzas with the founder at 11 p.m., to name a few clients I’ve worked on. I have been on sales calls with a client’s field salesmen, and checked at least 1,000 stores to study distribution and shelf placement. I’m not bragging. It’s something I just felt I needed to do to understand as much as I could about the brand, the category, the competition, and the environment in which my clients did business.

And, to be truthful, much of the time I really hated it. But I did learn a lot about the client’s business from the ground up. And, more importantly, I gained a respect from the client that paid off when I made recommendations on their communications strategies. If I could gain some understanding (and insight) from my inside look at their business, I had the credibility because I had been there.

Now I’m not saying that everyone should run out and sell Lottery tickets at 7-11. Or work at a jewelry store. Or plow a 40-acre field. But we can all do something to gain a greater understanding (and insight) into our client’s business.

How many of us read the newspaper every day and study the advertising? How many of us sort through all of the direct mail we get at home to be on the lookout for competitive mailings. Or for any really creative ideas that we might be able to adapt for our clients. How many of us are using the Internet to stay on top of category and general marketing trends?

Every day, I get e-mail news alerts and RSS feeds from key trade publications, major bloggers, AMA, Marketing Profs, TrendCentral, Forrester, McKinsey, AAAA SmartBrief and NRF SmartBrief. I’ve usually not looking for anything special. I’m just looking to see if anything pops up that will make me smarter about our client’s business. Any one can be a mystery shopper for a client by visiting their store or one of their competitor’s stores.

 And I can tell you from experience that clients appreciate it when you pass along your observations. Even if they aren’t great new insights, it shows we are trying. And that we care about their business.

Do you know enough about our client’s business? Do you care enough to learn? I hope you do. I think it’s a big part of what makes our agency such a great place to be. And how we keep our clients!