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Unlocking the potential of inexperienced clients

“You are from an agency and you expect to be hired to help companies achieve their goals and objective. But have you ever thought that your clients would say they have not set any goals and even budget? What happens if they cannot differentiate the role of media agency and creative agency?”

Mr. Hoi started the interview by posing the question back at me, the interviewer, when I approached the topic of client management. Hence, it must be one of the lingering concerns of an agency’s director like him, and probably a common problem for any agencies working with inexperienced clients in Vietnam, I thought. Actually, thinking about what he just said gave me the giggles. Yes, I did face the similar situation with people who are curious about my Communication major. “Wow so you are future MC!!!”. Or sometimes even worse “I though PR = PG? Why do you have to study three years to do the job of giving samplings for people in front of supermarket?”. I usually have two options: Explain or simple smile and beat around the bush. But can I do the same with a client?

With over 8 years of media expertise with countless clients of various sizes and from various industries, Mr. Pham Buu hoi, former General Manager of MEC, and now Managing Director of Change INTERACTION media company, shared with me his own practice on the issue.

Image1.     Don’t wait until the client meeting to introduce yourself

From Mr. Hoi’s experience, although there are many difficulties in dealing with inexperienced agencies, it does not mean that agency should walk away. The marketing industry in Vietnam is still not a mature industry, he states, hence not everyone can understand it and that is why clients need agencies. Clients may not be able to distinguish which agency offers which service, hence, it is agency’s responsibility to communicate their role and attract potential customers’ interest, even before the very first meeting.

“A clear and strong credential or portfolio gives a chance to showcase an agency’s industry experience. For example, Change INTERACTION’s credential is a PowerPoint which includes a summary of digital media landscape, the company services, its crew’s profiles and success stories.  The more knowledge the customers gain about what you do and how well you do it, the fewer questions and assumptions.”

2.     Managing clients’ expectations

Small clients with less experience usually want a one-stop shop agency which can help them from A – Z; therefore, the scope of work for agencies would be bigger and more potential. Their expectations however, are not usually clear in the brief. Listening and ask, suggested by Kelleron (2012) are simple steps to address this problem. During the discussion, agencies can notice the body langue of the clients to guess their concerns and misunderstandings, especially if the campaign’s goals and objectives are not transparent with both sides (Singer 2011).It is important at this first stage to issue a clear brief and agree objectives, outputs and costs up front and leave no room for ambiguity (Solomon 2008).

“Now they are clear what we have and what they need, a good agency would know how to forecast its client’s needs to go beyond them. For instance, with clients who prefer someone providing a full range of services but we may not specialize in some fields, what we can offer is to help them monitor other agencies who are also our experienced partners. It shows our insights and that we care for our clients’ overall needs”, says Mr. Hoi.

3. Speak the clients’ language

It is easy for us as marketing practitioners to understand jargons and terms in marketing and the working process in this industry, but clients may not necessarily be experts.

“Clients don’t know what they don’t know”,…

Mr. Hoi explains, “Not only small clients with little experience in hiring agencies, but also marketers from large firms may not always be updated with new innovations in this fast-paced industry.”.

Figure 1. Reproduced from: Kaufman n.d.

Accordingly, he believes that there is never too much explanation. Beforehand, researching the client’s business and products are crucial to have a solid understanding and interest in your project. In the presentation as well as along the working process, simple langue, charts and images should be utilized to easily draw the big picture of what the agency is planning to do for its clients, the rationales behind and how the proposed strategy can help them achieve their overall goal.

“Remember that an informed client is a happy client”, says Mr. Hoi.

4. Cost or Cost effective?

With no or little experience, it is not easy for clients to decide when it comes to judging the quality of proposals from different agencies.  Additionally, the outcomes that agencies promise to deliver are intangible; they might concern about how to control the agencies’ service, the difference between those quotations.  Some may even assume that agencies often bid all the fees. With the increasing economic pressure in this period, clients are very likely to fall into the trap of looking only at the cost, neglecting other factors that contribute to an effective working partnership.

Figure 2. Reproduced from Morelos 2012
Mr. Hoi’s idea is similar to the Quality vs. Price Triumvirate: “Clients should be made aware that they cannot have it all” (Morelos 2012)

Mr. Hoi insists that clients should be told to not focus on the cost but the cost effectiveness of a proposal.

“Agencies have to explain how their strategy will help to save the clients’ money, how agencies’ experienced staff can consult the client’s concerns and minimize the risk of the campaigns, the number of options they would offers and so on.  And more often than not, a strong statement about your added values will save agencies a lot of time negotiating for ten, or twenty percent discount and hold firm to your reputation.”

Mr. Hoi explains that small clients have more room for growth, hence, in the long term, agencies can be right there growing with them. Furthermore, no matter if clients are big or small, experienced or never hired any agency before, agencies’ responsibility is to make their clients better. Therefore, instead of thinking about clients as an objective to be educated, agencies should clear mind the objective is how to help client prepare for their success. Finally, Mr. Hoi concludes the interview with his last tip for the topic of dealing with inexperienced clients:

“Don’t make your client look foolish, just take good care of him and he will be very likely to come back!”.

About the interviewee and the company:

Mr. Pham Buu Hoi is the Managing director of Change INTERACTION, a business division of NEXT Commercial Solutions Company Limited., Mr. Hoi, in particular, has over 8 years working in marketing and media agencies with client service, profound media expertise as well as agency management and business development skills. He used to be the General Manager of Mediaedge:cia (MEC), a founding partner of GroupM, WPP’s media investment management group before starting his own business NEXT group in the beginning of May 2012. Although the company is a new being in digital marketing, the first three months has been happily occupied with a client list that includes Abbott, Gilette, Sony and domestic business such as SaiGon Foods.

LinkedIn profile of Mr. Pham Buu Hoi: http://www.linkedin.com/in/hoiphambuu

Story by Nguyen Le Phuong Khanh – s3309987

Author & Mr. Hoi

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One thought on “Unlocking the potential of inexperienced clients

  1. Khanh, you forgot… that aside from becoming future PGs, you can also hang banners on the streets! Just kidding… But in all seriousness these remarks can be quite disquieting for agencies that really do want to contribute to a client’s success and are not just in it for the business.

    Mr. Hoi has provided some good tips. However, what would be interesting though is first and foremost getting some insight on how to properly ‘identify’ these kinds of clients. Based on his experiences, is there a formula? Are there clear cut signs? Can you always assume a start-up as ‘inexperienced’? What are some of the challenges in dealing with an inexperienced, as well as a stubborn client?

    Lots of new questions for a potential follow-up blog for future students to consider. Thanks for introducing the question! ~Mel C

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