It is said that when an agency gets a new account, it is only time before the business is lost.  Calexis has had quite a few client relationships that have lasted more than ten years.

We have also lost accounts.  No one is impervious to changes.  But there are signs when a relationship is going bad and we try to be alert to that and retain a company commitment to making relationships work.

There are a few signs that we have seen over the years that heighten our awareness to a potential problem.  Action may reduce the risks of an account review or loss.

The funny thing is that agencies win accounts with creative and strategic insights that can really move our clients’ businesses.  But losses are usually no related to these things.

Sure we have presented creative ideas that scared clients.  We have had clients actually get goosebumps in meetings.  But creative is seldom how agencies lose accounts.  What does?

1. Changes in client personnel can immediately put accounts in jeopardy.  Agency management has to put get everyone alert and attentive to the new people.  Arrange a meeting as quickly as possible and get acquainted and understand if there is a change in priorities and a change in chemistry.  It might even mean making a change of the agency team members to work better with the new people at the client.

2. Agencies digging in their toes on an issue. When it comes down to an “us against them” feeling, then there is a problem that has to be addressed.  At the end of the day, it is the client’s nickel.  We will always tell our clients what we think is right.  If that doesn’t work, we will try once again because maybe we weren’t clear enough in our presentation or maybe we didn’t understand some of our client’s internal issues well enough.  If that fails, we have to realize that we might be wrong.  We might put the idea away, give it a shave and haircut, then parade it out for the client again.  Or maybe not.

3. Mistakes are not a problem. One of my old bosses told me that “it is better to be made purple once than pink many times.”  If we make a mistake, we fess up and take the blame.  If we constantly make lots of little mistakes, we are on the way to losing the account and someone is on their way to losing their job for not paying attention.

4. Sloppy budget management will get you fired. This is similar to making lots of little mistakes.  Clients are incredibly sensitive to cost accounting.  When it comes to estimates, we make sure we are fair and well protected.  If we are going over budget, sometimes due to client changes along the way, we let our clients know as early as possible.  Agencies tend to look for value over costs, but sometimes it is hard to explain this to clients who are controlling against costs.

5. Threatening the client manager’s authority. The relationship with client manager charged with managing the agency is a sensitive thing.  We try to make sure that there are more connections between companies than one.  That gives the client room to give feedback on their account and it also allows the agency to give feedback, very carefully, on the client personnel.  Very carefully.  But sometimes that client manager is the toxic part of the mix and the agency has to find a way to address it or be on the way out.  And a perceived direct threat is a the route to a quick exit, especially from an insecure client manager.

6. More little things that bug clients: not returning telephone calls, not following up on projects, non-availability of agency people, invoicing errors, costs that are unanticipated, staffing changes or slow replacement of personnel all signal to the client that the agency is not committed to their business.  Sometimes these things are unavoidable, but being proactive with an apology and working to shore up the relationship are the first steps to dissipating any tension.

When faced with a client objection to a recommendation, we try to remember not to:

  • become defensive
  • provide knee-jerk responses
  • become adversarial
  • blame someone else
  • ask the wrong questions

It is said in the agency business that doing the work well is the easy part.  Maintaining a positive client relationship is the hard work and it is constant work.  We believe the priority is to maintain the client relationship.  we’d rather do that than spend all our time in the riskier business of trying to get new clients as old ones walk out the back door.

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