How to spark and maintain long term relationships with clients
In this blog, five Teamsters share their insights into how to spark and maintain long term relationships with clients.
In recent years it’s become increasingly challenging to hold onto clients, with budgets being scrutinised and every penny needing to be tendered for and justified. Some clients are distracted by the newest, shiniest agency on the block, whereas others seek the consistency and deep understanding that only comes with years of collaboration… but they also want vision and progression.
So how do you keep client relationships fresh and vital?
At The Team, we’ve worked with some of our clients for over ten years, some for over 15. It’s something we’re really proud of and place great value on, so we thought we’d share a few insights from some of our Teamsters into how we’ve sparked and maintained these long relationships with clients.
Ciara Rollings, Client Director
Be their brand guardian
For some of our long-term clients, we’ve become the glue that helps monitor and bind brand work across the organisation. When clients are time-poor, they need the agency to be proactive, observant and collaborative in a way that reduces their mental load without removing their control or visibility across workstreams.
We’re able to do that incredibly intuitively after having built up relationships across their business for many years. People in the organisations we work with don’t see us as a supplier, but rather as an extension of their brand or marketing teams.
This is the sweet spot: becoming a true partner that clients can trust.
Be genuine: invest in the relationship
To maintain a long term relationship with a client, the soft skills are so important – making time to understand, listen and gain a client’s confidence is vital. Personal relationships, a sense of humour (well-timed, of course!) can make all the difference to the working relationship.
But let’s be clear: being best mates isn’t the same as being a trusted, vital and integral partner who can help a client achieve what they need.
In the past, there was often a degree of complacency stemming from the expectation that the warmest client relationship equated to the continuation of a contract. Well, those days are long gone.
Knowledge is power, but for clients to realise how much they need you, you need to prove clear value for money, the ability to deliver, and evolutionary (and revolutionary) thinking. When you think for them – and ahead of them – and are ready for their challenges before they’ve even spotted them, you’ll always be in a strong position.
Responsiveness alongside the ability to show you can deliver the smaller things will help reassure them you can manage the bigger and more intensive projects. That’s why we’ve found it highly effective to have a dedicated project management team focused on delivery, with other agency team members focusing on strategy, design and relationship building.
Don’t be afraid to freshen up the team
We fell out of contract for a year with one of our main clients and there was a lull. We were keen to get back onto contract, so embraced a very rigorous procurement exercise during which we demonstrated how well we knew them.
With a clear vision of how we could support them in the exciting transformational years that lay ahead, we decided to swap in and swap out team members; upskilling in-house and bringing in outside expertise and specialisms where needed. In doing this, we highlighted how even though we were the same in some respects we were also differentiated.
By showing the client we had a vast a knowledge base and skillset, while also being well-positioned to but help guide them towards the future, we gave them the assurance they needed to contract with us again.
Kardo Ayoub, Experience Design Director
A client relationship should be more than simply transactional, I believe close working relationships are also important. Feeling safe to share thoughts and concerns openly is the key to understanding challenges, empathising and building trust on both sides.
Immerse yourself in your client’s core business
Take ownership and treat the client’s challenges as if they’re your own.
Get under the skin of the organisation to discover the challenges they face and always be on the lookout for opportunities to improve them as an organisation.
Clients are looking for more than just “doers”, they’re looking for experts who understand – and even challenge – them. To do that, you need to know everything about their world.
We embed ourselves within the organisation and become an extension of it. Sometimes we know more about them than their own internal teams! We often have better sight of different, disjointed, areas of the business, which helps us to join the dots more effectively than if they tried to internally.
Bring new skills and ideas to the table
Agencies must have the capacity to reinvent themselves. The world is constantly changing, which mean we must constantly change with it. In order to keep up with (and overtake) the rest of the market, it’s vital to stay up-to-date and innovate.
Sharing fresh ideas, new talent and different ways of doing things reassures the client that they’re working with a proactive and progressive agency.
I’ve been in the business for over 25 years and still get a buzz falling in love with new brands alongside promoting the brands I’ve worked with for a long time. To be successful, you must be genuinely interested in what a client’s brand is all about, as well as a true desire to see them succeed.
Be there in the good times and the bad
Everything goes in circles and it’s safe to assume that a brand will face some form of adversity at some point.
Recessions come and go, markets rise and fall, and it’s at these times that it’s doubly important your clients know you’re there to help. They need to know they can turn to you when they don’t have a PO.
If you’re promising to be a client’s partner and collaborator, then you must demonstrate you’re there for them through thick and thin – it shows commitment and builds trust.
As Ciara said, all good relationships are built on honesty. If you keep saying yes to everything, then where is the value in the relationship?
There must be a time for disagreement and debate. Unless you’re prepared to show courage and give an opposite point of view – if it’s what you truly believe – then your client isn’t truly benefiting from the relationship.Cliff Ettridge, Director at The Team
Equally, there have been times when we’ve been honest and told a client to save their money by not using us. It’s incredibly tempting to see the pound, dollar and euro signs and get excited, but what should be steering any relationship is how the work is driving value for money for the end customer.
If you genuinely love what the brand does, then you’ll be genuinely interested in delivering value for customers. I can’t abide seeing wasted money – usually because I know it could have been invested elsewhere.
Be like a swan, own the problems with them
“We need you to deliver the campaign in two weeks.”
The answer is always, ‘…leave it with us.’
The solution might not be the campaign they’re asking for, but there is always an answer. Whatever happens, never say ‘no.’ Never leave the client out in the cold, they’ve clearly been thrown a curve ball and you must be there for them.
Dave Recchia, Executive Creative Director
For an agency, it can be easy to lose sight of what it’s like to work client side. There’s so much we’re insulated from in terms of stakeholder engagement and business case development. The client is often managing multiple complex relationships – they take a lot of heat.
Patience is essential, both for the client and the idea.
When we have an idea – one that is driven by a clear behavioural insight and comes with a blinding creative thought – we’re eager to put it into practice. But there’s a lot to do when it comes to turning an idea into reality, and the client is often doing everything they can to protect and nurture that idea in-house. As agencies, we can help by offering our services in presentation after presentation to bring stakeholders on side.
I think that all too often agencies feel our job is done once the idea and creative is presented, when in reality, this is the point where we really need to help and support our clients in getting the idea over the line.
Bob Wheller, Creative Lead
Some of the key things I try to remember when I’m working with my clients revolve around culture and quality.
Don’t be the outside advisor
Be understanding of your client’s culture and the challenges faced by individuals on the project team. Share their objectives and use the language of ‘we’ and ‘us’ so that they know you’re on their side.
It’s great (and welcomed) to be expert in what you have been asked to do, but don’t be arrogant. Offer your knowledge freely and with humility.
And, as Cliff says, be responsive to your client’s needs, requests, and offer solutions and innovations they might need.
Focus on quality not quantity
- No job is too small, you gain client trust and respect by dealing with the small stuff effectively and efficiently.
- Keep it simple. Avoid turning small client requests into big undertakings or bigger projects – just deliver brilliantly on what you’ve been asked to do.
- Don’t be greedy, a client will never forgive overcharging or scope creep through design. Remember, it is more rewarding to keep old clients than it is to win new ones.
Nurturing long-term client relationships, unsurprisingly, requires us to go above and beyond the transactional.
Here are a few key take-aways that help you become indispensable partners to your clients:
- Be proactive, collaborative, and as integrated as possible.
- Foster trust and loyalty by listening to your client and understanding their culture and objectives – be responsive.
- Be prepared to continuously reinvent yourself to stay ahead of the competition, stay up-to-date and bring fresh ideas to the table.
If, for some reason, a client relationship comes to an end, always make sure it’s a positive ‘conscious uncoupling’, as Gwyneth might say. Leaving on the best terms possible, you leave the door open for future opportunities either there or elsewhere. Be sure to learn from any mistakes or feedback and use it to reflect, grow and evolve.
If you’d like to know more about what The Team can do you for your business, drop us a line.