Managing healthy client relationships is a vital element of successful account service. Very often, it’s easy to get pulled into the minutiae of day-to-day projects and lose sight of the overarching partnership and holistic account vision. Though quality outcomes and performance-based successes are key metrics by which to justify future client investment, a key factor for long-term, fruitful partnership is the rapport and trust built between agency and client.
One way to ensure that relationship management is top-of-mind with your team is to develop a client relationship health check, to track and prioritize your account-management and relationship efforts. This allows you to rate your agency/client relationship across different criteria and build an action plan for improvement. Additionally, it provides you with a framework to gather regular feedback from your clients and identify opportunities to accelerate the relationship.
Below, I detail the core elements of a common health check tool: the scorecard and the action plan. As it’s relevant, these can be adapted to your specific market, relationship and audience.
This scorecard allows leadership to take a step back and assess performance across four factors: Agency, Quality, Client and Opportunity. This item helps answer the question: At a high level, how would you grade the current account across a variety of criteria?
Typically, the ranking scale is 1 to 5, with 1 representing poor health and 5 representing exceptional health. Although it can be a relatively subjective scoring process, it provides a valuable opportunity for agency self-reflection and a baseline for future assessment.
Agency represents the structure and strength of the agency team:
- How efficiently is the team structured?
- Are there gaps in staffing that cause major pain points for the overall relationship?
- How would you rate the agency team’s cohesion and collaboration?
- Is the agency team structured for the relationship now AND into the future?
These are just some of the questions you can use to build a rating for the current agency team. Ultimately, you are looking to identify gaps in expertise, understand the efficacy of the current team’s structure and assess those areas in which the team excels.
Quality represents the quality (both perceived and proven) of the agency output:
- How have the agency’s services and outputs performed against pre-established KPIs?
- How well has the agency addressed key tasks set against the marketing plan or tactical roadmap?
- Has the agency been acknowledged by key client leadership?
High-quality work is the key factor in retaining client business for the long haul. If you can’t prove that your services and outputs are having a positive impact on the client’s business, how can you justify further investment?
Client represents the strength of the relationship:
- How would you rate the day-to-day interactions with key client contacts?
- How about the less frequent interactions with key leadership?
- When has the agency been pulled in to consult on key business priorities? Do you normally have a “seat at the table” during important planning sessions?
Everyone on the agency team has a responsibility to build trust and purpose with the client; it’s not just the responsibility of the account team. Building relationships across the organization integrates your team within the client’s team and makes it more difficult to separate in the future.
Opportunity assesses the quantity and quality of the work requests coming into the agency:
- How would you describe the type of work with which the agency is asked to help?
- Are you assisting with efforts that only help with short-term business goals? Or are you providing insight and strategic guidance in areas with future potential?
- From a financial standpoint, how is the budget/revenue fairing compared to previous years, similar clients or overall agency goals?
As noted in the previous section, the more you can integrate your agency’s business within the client’s business, the more likely you are to establish deeper relationship roots and begin to take on more impactful opportunities. If you aren’t seeing the types of opportunities the agency is aspiring for, this section allows you to capture that feedback.
Once you’ve conducted your health check, it’s then time to put together an action plan. This action plan aims to answer the question: Where can you make an impact to improve these grades? In this section, detail specific tasks that are designed to improve these scores.
Each task should be assigned to someone and include time expectations. When crafting your action items, write them with an eye toward a specific time period. Writing action items that are too broad could lead to confusion or procrastination. Articulating tasks that are too tactical means that they may not have a big enough impact on changing the health scores. Typically, I write action items to be addressed over a three-month span.
Additionally, I’ve found success building a grid with client contacts on the x-axis and agency contacts on the y-axis that assesses grades across individual relationships. Like the health check scorecard, this is a relatively subjective exercise, but assists with identifying key opportunities where agency leadership should actively work on building client relationships. Detail specific tasks that can be taken in the short term that may improve these scores. Each task should be assigned to someone and include completion-time expectations. You’re looking to answer the questions: How can I integrate my organization into the client’s organization across disciplines? Where does our relationship stand across the organization, and how can we improve these grades?
However you decide to structure your client relationship health check, what’s most important is that you are spending the time and effort to reflect on your teams’ successes and opportunities, and aspiring for positive change.
As Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
– Jordan Bainer is Associate Business Director, Mirum Minneapolis. You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.
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