Client - Agency Relationship Management

Written By Patrick Sheffield
Posted on

Agency business is a unique line of work. More so than in other industries, relationships can make or break the business. Many industries are transactional, i.e. I give you money, you sell me something, I leave. These purchases tend to be lower cost, infrequent, and you may never see the person you bought from again. There really isn't any space to develop a relationship. But agencies are different. The money is significant, the projects are long lasting or open-ended, and we provide a highly specialized service that isn’t easily replaced. I've spent more than a decade working in an agency setting, and in that time, I've only worked for two of them. So I've had the opportunity to develop long-lasting relationships with clients and have learned a bit along the way. Before getting into the how-to, let’s talk about the benefits of good client-agency relationships.

What good client relationships do for your agency

Quality of life

Good relationships make for a good work life. If you’re going to spend 8+ hours a day doing a job and interacting with people, why wouldn’t you do everything you can to build a relationship?

Client retention

The better the relationship with your clients, the longer you’ll have them. From a bottom-line point of view, this offers predictable revenue and makes budget planning easier.

Referrals

If your client likes you and respects the work you do for them, they’ll refer business to you. And chances are, it’ll be people similar to them that you’ll also enjoy working with. It’s a virtuous circle.

Personal capital

This is the trust part of the relationship. In the software business, or any business, something is going to go wrong at some point. If you have some personal capital built up with your client, they’re going to trust that you’ll handle the issue and will treat you with respect. You won’t lose their confidence for it.

What good agency relationships do for clients

Stability

Enjoying a good relationship with your development agency means you can stop agency shopping. You’ll get a feel for each other over time and that will stabilize the web side of your business. Stability = less stress.

Steady improvement

Over time, the agency is going to get to know your site and your business, and you will see the payoff in continuous improvements. You’ll move from feeling like you’re always behind or in triage mode to working ahead.

Someone to lean on in crunch time

Sometimes you’re going to find yourself in a position where you need something done urgently. It might be big or small but it needs to be done ASAP. An agency you have a good relationship with is going to have your back and make sure it gets done. They’re also going to be your advocate and look out for you proactively.

Sounds good, now what?

Here are four of my best tips for developing good relationships with your agency clients.

Tips

  1. Time - Beyond the contractual time commitment to do the work, you need to put in time to build a relationship. Get to know the person by asking questions, telling them about yourself, and checking in from time to time just to see how they’re doing.
  2. Don’t overpromise - A classic agency pitfall when starting a new project is overpromising. Everyone is excited about the new project and eager to get started. You want to show them what you can do and promises are made. Well intended or not, this is a mistake in my view. Because once the work starts, you have constraints. Time, money, unforeseen circumstances, and *whispers* other clients. And inevitably, you won’t do some of what you said you will and if that happens, then trust erodes. Set those expectations appropriately from the get go. Your client won’t punish you for it.
  3. Give them a couple of early wins - If setting proper expectations is important, so is delivering early. If you’re doing a good job asking questions and listening, your client is going to tell you some things that are really important to them. Often, they’re small. If you can accomplish a few of their priorities early on, you’re well on your way to establishing the trust necessary for a good relationship.
  4. You have to care - You actually need to care about the people you’re doing business with and the quality of the work being delivered. You can’t phone it in. Clients know when their agency is going through the motions even if they’re too polite to call it out. But eventually, that bill comes due when it’s time to renew the contract. Likewise, they’ll know it if you really care.

Good relationships don't simply materialize out of thin air. They're the result of intentional choices and actions. And work. My experience has taught me that it's well worth the effort.