Taking the guesswork out of client relationships
Recently, a prospective client asked us to provide a budget, starting date and timeline for a potentially significant public relations assignment. Although I had a previous phone conversation with this individual, she was only able to give minimal details. I responded to the request for the budget and timeline by saying we really needed to meet to further explore objectives and expectations, including desired outcomes. Before we had a chance to get together, she informed me that her situation required moving ahead with another agency so she could meet her campaign launch date.
Because I believed that our skills and experience aligned perfectly with the type of assignment under discussion, her decision was disappointing to say the least. If this were an isolated experience, however, I would have written it off as bad timing on our part and an unfortunate, but unavoidable circumstance. But what is most perplexing is that more and more frequently we are asked to provide information about pricing and services without adequate background upon which to base our recommendations and proposal. Some of you might be amazed at how often RFPs are issued that specifically prohibit conversations with key decision makers in advance of submitting a proposal. And with equal frequency, the RFPs lack substantive information beyond a bullet list of deliverables.
I’m sure this is not unique to our business and I am likewise sure we have probably been equally guilty on occasion with our suppliers. Once again, it comes back to several societal trends I have addressed previously including the tendency to focus on tactics rather than strategies.
Tim Williams is an agency consultant who speaks often about value-based pricing. Recently, he made this observation:
“53% of agencies never, or only sometimes, initially discuss expected outcomes with the client prior to discussing scope of work when they begin a major new assignment.”
Shame on the agencies for not asking the right questions. Shame on the clients for not providing the essential information.
This is important on several levels. The first is the obvious one that it is next to impossible for agencies to provide relevant strategic recommendations without a complete understanding of the direction a client campaign is intended to go and the “why.”
There is also the issue of what Williams calls “scope of value.” Marketers are increasingly asking for accountability from their agencies – and appropriately so. Having solid information based on current and future ROI data makes everyone’s life easier. But producing relevant performance metrics starts with a clear and mutual understanding of the goals and end game.
Sometimes, knowing the scope of value can provide an unexpected bonus, the opportunity to formulate a compensation plan based on achieving specific KPI quotas. It is not viable in every circumstance and often the devil is in the details which are specific to every situation. But it does represent a credible opportunity to change the dynamics of the agency/client relationship in ways that enhance effectiveness and shared economic benefits.
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