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Sustaining the ‘oxygen’ in your agency: Turning client acquisition into retention

Given the competitive arena of the communications industry, agencies are constantly waging battles against each other in order win over clients. Newly established agencies must compete against the big sharks in the industry, who already boast a high caliber portfolio and global presence. Yet, the question is, how are they effectively able to turn this often-intimidating scenario into a tale of David and Goliath?

To help answer this question, Mr. Binh Le, the energetic founder and managing director of Echo group, shares with us his secrets on how small-scale agencies can not only win over clients, but also effectively turn this into long-term client retention.

Established in late 2010, Echo Group is a new-coming IMC and digital marketing agency in Vietnam, which has already worked with clients such as Johnny Walker, the Smirnoff Nightlife Exchange Project, and has recently won the pitch for Kotex by Kimberly Clarke.

While Mr. Le recognizes that smaller agencies face the challenge of being ‘unknown’ by clients, he instead highlights the number of opportunities available to new agencies in the arena. As an outside viewer, “you can spot many errors in existing ad agencies’ approaches to clients, and most importantly – you can learn from these”.  His secret tip for successful client acquisition is to always possess a student mentality. By constantly learning about the industry, about your competitor’s ability and also about the client’s competitors’ abilities, you’re able to gain a competitive advantage from a fresh third-party perspective.

Every client seeks for potential agencies that are not only trustworthy but also able to deliver, and ultimately able to maximize their return on profit. A relationship doesn’t just happen, but is a “commitment between two parties, and involves the fulfillment of promises over the long term” (Fam & Waller 2008, p.219). For this reason, Mr. Le insists that “you can’t just prepare yourself to win the campaign, you have to be prepared to deliver”. He likens the scenario to a tourist packing a suitcase for travel; you have to pack your suitcase with a lot of things, to prepare for a trip that you might not know what will happen. According to Soloman (2008, p.71), ‘it’s the way to stay out of the rain in dealing with clients’. The idea is to anticipate what might happen and to prepare for it.

It’s without a doubt that client acquisition is vital in the success of an agency, yet Mr. Le instead turns his focus to accentuate the importance of client retention. Securing a contract is only the first stage of a business, yet delivering a contract is what it all comes down. Being a man that speaks in more metaphors than plain language, he refers to retained contracts as the blood throw through your body. “Contracts are those oxygen particles that diffuse into your blood stream and keep every cell working at its best. Your client is your oxygen, and hence you are alive.”

While businesses recognize the importance of acquiring new customers, many are unable to foresee the added value of retaining clients (Bikram 2010). To challenge this ill-prioritized order of thinking, Mr. Le follows by sharing insight on client-retention, providing us with his top tips on how to manage a ‘good’ relationship with clients.

 

1. Keep space: Be able to ‘manage’ the closeness between the client and your agency

While maintaining a close client-agency relationship is vital, Mr. Le insists “it’s all about building trust, in order to have distance”. Clients and agencies must allow each other breathing space, in order to each complete their duties to the best of their abilities. If prioritization of work over is needed, Fam & Waller (2008) insist that agencies must explain this to the client.

“If your relationship is great, you can go to a level of friendship outside work, but NEVER have anything to do with a relationship after that”, Mr. Le explains. This falls in line with the ideology from Soloman (2008, p.152) to ‘never mistake your relationship for personal friendship’. No matter how social it becomes, you must never forget that it’s business. Your client will always be your client.

 

2. The client is not your boss, but your partner.

Sometimes you have to be on the ground to communicate with clients in a way that they appreciate your work and what you do. Mr. Le warns, “If you just sit there, nod your head and say ‘yes boss’, then your client doesn’t need you. All they need is a bunch of legs to run all their tasks.”

Instead, you must position yourself as a partner, a partner with the same mindset and goal; to build a brand that works. Mr. Le’s ideology falls in line with ‘the Relationship Marketing ladder’, in which Payne et al. (1995, p.viii) outlines ‘trusted partner’ to be the ideal and most desired position of an agency for a client.

If a client has a mentality that “you’re MY agency”, then you know they want to be your typical boss. Your task an as agency, is to close the power distance and to change that mindset into a level of them thinking that you’re partners,”Mr. Le concedes, “That’s very important.”

 

3. Your ‘client’ is more than just the executive that hired you.

In the broadest sense, your ‘client’ is far more than simply the executive that hired you. It could include anyone in the client organisation, more senior executives that you’ve never met, the CEO, or a new manager that’s part of the team you’re working with (Sobel 2003, p.2).

To build a strong relationship with your ‘client’, you must be able to communicate with anyone, at any level of the client organization. Mr. Le stresses that the ability to harmonize everyone is vital for the agency. Yet, he warns agencies to be cautious about creating a power gap amongst personnel from the client, as lower level staff may be intimidated by the fact that you communicate with their boss or high executives. It’s important to be able to talk to people from all different levels while staying in control and not coming across as intimidating.

 

On a broader perspective, Mr. Le accentuates that it all comes down to trust. Trust should be embedded into not only how you treat your client, but also in everyday business practice. Mr. Le concludes the interview with an underlying statement, “It comes down to the ‘PASSION’ that clients feel from you, to ‘TRUST’ what you do for them.” Whether it be in client acquisition or retention, it’s undeniable that trust should be the key backbone of all touch-points and with the client.

  

Words and photography by Priscilla Truong S3333081

Word Count: 1099


 

 

References:

Bikram 2010, ‘Why Customer Retention is More Important than Customer Acquisition’ blog, 30 September, VA4Business, viewed 1 September 2012, <http://www.va4business.com/business/472/why-customer-retention-is-more-important-than-customer-acquisition/&gt;.

Fam, KS & Waller, DS 2008, ‘Agency-Client Relationship Factors Across Life-Cycle Stages’, Journal of Relationship Marketing, Vol. 7, Issue 2, p.217-236.

Payne, A, Christopher, M, Clark, M & Peck, H 1995, Relationship Marketing for Competitive Advantage: Winning and Keeping Customers, Butterworth-Heinemann, London.

Sobel, A 2003, ‘The myth of meeting client expectations’, Networking Today, (online), accessed on 31 August 2012,  <http://www.networkingtoday.com/article/The%20Myth%20Of%20Meeting%20Client%20Expectations-86&gt;

Soloman, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Revised and updated ed., Kaplan publishing, New York.

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One thought on “Sustaining the ‘oxygen’ in your agency: Turning client acquisition into retention

  1. I was attracted to the unique topic of small-scale agencies (are you referring to Boutique Agencies?)… but then your article presents very much the same key points any kind of agency should consider in practicing. It made me wonder if there is something more specific for these smaller agencies? Or perhaps the key lies in their own perception of themselves… That they should just look beyond the physical aspect of this challenge and consider themselves equal to everyone.

    Nonetheless, I enjoyed your flawless interweaving of academic and interview insights. ~Mel C

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