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Imagine yourself sitting at a negotiating table. You could be the business owner looking for the best way to market your company products or services to a captive audience. You might be the marketing executive, hoping to secure a new client. But no matter which side of the table you find yourself, there is an unspoken, yet crucial, aspect to forging this relationship. Hidden between the lines in even the best drafted agreement is the business marketing expectations that reside within each party. And seldom do the twain meet. Here’s why.
Not Everyone Speaks the Same Marketing Language
You may know your business, but it doesn’t mean you know marketing. On the flip side, marketing agencies know the nuances behind great copy and show-stopping design (or they should) but don’t count on them being experts at the differences between lug nuts. But if you manufacture lug nuts to a variety of industries, for example, how do you know which creative agency can help you effectively share the information, reestablish your brand, and build a following all about lug nuts? You don’t, initially.
Lug Nuts Don’t Help If They Don’t Fit
Allow me to expand on this makeshift scenario. You are the lug nut company. We Are Ego is the marketing agency looking to pitch and land lug nuts as a client. Here’s how a typical meeting might go down, whether you’re working at getting the account or desperately trying to keep it.
The We Are Ego agency believes they know everything about marketing. Its owners will tell you that as a fact. As such, they pitch you and pontificate in detail about how their knowledge and experience supersedes what you know about lug nuts. If they’re any good at their pitch, they’ll have you believing that. And if they’re just as talented at convincing your customers that you are the lug nut kings of the industry, this relationship will be golden.
But where there’s ego, there’s noise.
Your client’s customers won’t focus on the noise. Sure, they might be intrigued by the ad or promotion delivery. They could be intrigued by the marketing message or can’t get enough of the latest product offering. But the bottom line to the lug nut customer is… the lug nut.
Dialing this back a bit further, advertising agencies of the past reveled in their ability to spin their audiences through solid creative. Today, it takes a back seat to the most important aspect of marketing: The people who will consume your product or service. People are primary. Period…
…now back at the negotiating table. You’ve got two different kinds of people. How can you make them fit into each other’s square hole?
The Digital Debacle
If the lug nut company has a CTO, then you can banter beautifully about the analytics of social channels and the scalability of your preferred web design template and how it will lessen the cost and down-time in production, if they switch to your platform. Unfortunately, for the lug nut management representatives at the table representing sales, operations, manufacturing, legal, and logistics, all you’ve done is throw a slew of terminology at them that might as well be Greek. Because it is.
You haven’t impressed them. The lug nut team now feels out of step, out of touch, and belittled. How can they gage your value when they have no idea what you said? And so much for building trust. Good job We Are Ego. Great way to pitch a prospect (sarcasm overload here).
Technology and digital means of communication have allowed us to touch more people faster, but with much less efficacy. It has desensitized our ability to connect on the human level, which is where you truly need to be to reach people and make a positive, lasting impression. Isn’t that what marketing is all about? This goes for client interface too.
How did we get so lost in this data driven society?
Some People Read But Nobody Listens
This is a story of the chicken and the egg. The internet has reset the bar on how many media impressions a person can take per second and, with that, the attention level needed to take it all in. The result is that people cannot nor care not to truly digest what’s being thrown at them.
In addition, now that we (consumers) are expected to process more information at a quicker rate, we have less time to spend on each marketing message. This is a challenge for the marketing agency. Getting your creative to craft messaging that grabs the attention of the reader/viewer is the key to bringing a lug nut brand to market and growing it from there.
Unfortunately, people don’t read. And when it comes to marketing agency-to-client business agreements… these people don’t read either.
Where Egos Talk, Pigs Fly
Then there’s the art of listening. What? Exactly. People are generally more worried about what they are going to say than concern themselves with whatever it is that you just said. Right. This brings new meaning to the term circular conversation. People talk but the communication doesn’t have a purpose and seldom goes anywhere. Isn’t that productive?
We’re still at that negotiating table. While this meeting may just be an initial client pitch for their business, negotiations between a marketing agency and a client are always taking place – every time they communicate.
Swallow that truth, and you might change your communications best practices.
Marketing Agency and Client-Side Etiquette
- Say what you mean
- Mean what you say
- Document it
The above points may require some extra work on both agency and client but it will save countless hours of frustration and heightened emotions along the way. And it will save your relationship, instead of having to salvage it.
If you’re the agency, perhaps you prefer boasting about your creative portfolio, stellar accounts, and trophy wall full of awards. Gloating doesn’t make pigs or clients fly. But some agencies try. They try.
Revisit Conversations, Often
Think back on the last conversation you had with your marketing agency or member of your internal marketing team. You have a recollection about a web-based initiative, the deliverables needed and the associated deadlines. There was scope creep involved but the deadlines stayed the same.
Unfortunately, that was just the part of that prior conversation that you chose to remember. The marketing guru emphatically remembers that the deadlines got pushed, because of scope creep.
People tend to remember what they want to remember especially when it serves them best. However, had there been additional conversations about the shift in scope, the misunderstanding would be caught and addressed earlier, without the agency/client standoff.
Right, Wrong and Fair
My father once told me, “Business is like life. No one ever said it was going to be fair.” The ins and outs of the marketing agency and client relationship parallel that statement. There will be times in your partnership (that’s what it should be) where volatility will rise and patience will falter. It’s okay to have differing viewpoints on what will work in marketing and what won’t. The essence of your shared dynamic is in realizing you want to achieve the same goals. How you get there may be the source of contention, which isn’t bad.
Opposing marketing ideologies keeps the agency and the client on their professional toes, acquiescing into learning new things, and staying competitive. And in that – everyone wins.
Establish the Preferred Method of Chatter
Have you heard about the 5 Languages of Love? I wouldn’t bestow those onto your business relations; however, there are languages of communication. Depending on many factors, every person will have their own preferred method for communication.
- Phone call
- Video call
Whether the reasoning behind the preference is convenience, audio or visual sensitivity, as well as a combination of both, make sure to ask what the best form of communication is per agency and client representatives.
Restate the Obvious
Be it a phone conversation, text message, video conference or email correspondence, send a follow up communication and reiterate the major points covered in the communication. State your understanding of the takeaways from it, as well as the next steps needed. Then ask the other party to confirm your understanding or provide counterpoints that differ, in writing.
This will serve both sides well in the event of scope creep, memory loss or momentary lapses of reason during an overview of marketing budget, performance metrics or creative campaign presentation.
Nothing Can Replace a Face-to-Face
Most of us have been guilty of sending an email to the wrong person and hitting “Reply All” instead of “Forward” or “Reply”. What about your ill-thought response to a client or agency message? When you perceive it the wrong way and blew an incident way out of proportion.
Digital communication snafus happen. Often.
Derail the damage done by adding a monthly face-to-face with your client. If a client isn’t local, work in a trip to their office at least once a quarter or have them come to you. It’s the best way to get a comprehensive understanding of who they are, if they’re confident in your abilities, and whether they truly like you. Does that even matter?
Yaaass. People prefer to work with people they like. If a client has found two different marketing agencies with similar reputations and solid performance benchmarks, agency personality and likeability are the tipping point to securing the account.
Your Contract Is Your Friend
It may not be fun to enter into a business agreement between agency and client with a litigious mindset, but it’s worth its weight in preventing hassle down the road.
A well-crafted contract is your friend. A solid agreement provides the foundational support needed when missteps happen over the course of the marketing agency/client association.
But don’t think that the marketing service contract is all about numbers. Of course the budget, monthly retainer, KPIs and ROI is important. But what blurs the numbers and the mechanisms to achieve them are expectations that get glossed over from one side to the other.
Can you avoid assumptions borne from expectations? More than you might think.
Add specific provisions into the contract:
- Cost for changes to deliverables
- Cost for scope creep (production and timelines)
- Call out preferred communications to be used
In addition to the above, revisit the contract (internally) every 90 days. You’ll know if you (agency or client) are in accord with the terms and conditions and can make adjustments before the other side calls you out on it. If you feel that a modification should be made to the contract, consider drafting an Addendum and scheduling a face to face to discuss the matter.
Here’s what can happen if you don’t.
The Agency Is the Last to Know
You’ve never been asked to meet with the business owner. But you received a call out-of-the-blue and now find yourself doing the two-hour road trip late on a Friday morning to get there. But you’re prepared. You’ve got the latest monthly reports ready to be presented showing the steady increase in site visits, social engagements, and followers. With any luck, you should be receiving the final edit to the latest video production creative has completed and know it will “Wow” them.
But something happened between contract and expectations that was never discussed.
You enter the conference room and find 10 angry-looking executives who scowl at your very presence. Instead of presenting numbers, representative of the fruits of your labor, you receive a lashing of untruths relayed in expletives. The core accusations?
- Inconsistent communication
- Skewing performance numbers
- Missed deadlines
Justifiable? Not according to the contract. Unfortunately, the contract can be perceived in multiple ways. (Isn’t that how attorneys secure ongoing employment?)
This client/agency encounter didn’t end well, though it could have.
If the Relationship Can’t Be Saved, No Need for Sour Grapes
Never burn a bridge in business. It’s short-sighted, like cutting off your nose to spite your face and almost as painful.
Regardless of how you believe the other party wronged you, this is all temporary. And if you’ve served your client well, let them go gracefully. Time will show truth. They may come back at some point in the future when they see the value of your business and what you brought to the table.
Should that happen, follow the guidelines in this blog. But before you e-sign on the dotted line, come to a place where agency/client expectations meet and egos are left at the door.