“I’m not convinced I need you”

I was chatting with one of my agency clients. He was telling me about one of their biggest clients. A new Marketing Director joined and so my agency client went for a first meeting with the new client decision maker. My client was fairly relaxed as all they’d heard from the previous outgoing Marketing Director was praise for the agency’s “wonderful work”. My client was surprised when the new Marketing Director said “I’m not convinced I need you. I think we can manage within the internal marketing team”

What do you say?

After years of hard work it must feel like a kick in the teeth. All that hard work, for what? Nothing is guaranteed in business. The current UK CMO tenure is 18 months (down from 3 years a few years ago). Senior clients change jobs. Joni Mitchell’s words rang in my ears “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”.

There’s an easy trap for agencies to fall into. Our senior client leaves after we’ve had a great relationship and done some of our best work. We assume the new client will be knocked out by our work and immediately fall in love with us. The danger is that we may appear arrogant or complacent to the new senior client. To complicate matters further the new client is probably being pursued by their previous agencies who now see your client as their number one business development opportunity for this month.

So here are 7 tips to help you handle effectively that new meeting with a senior client plus a few suggestions to help you pre-empt the situation long before it arises.

  1. Do NOT start by presenting your credentials or examples of your work for this client or other clients until you’re asked.
  2. Be curious. Ask insightful questions which demonstrate you understand the client’s business and also help you understand what the new senior client has planned.
  3. Listen carefully to what they say and even what they don’t say (this can often be more revealing than what is actually said.) Listen to their language and watch their body language. How open are they with you? Do they want to share their thinking or are they saying as little as possible?
  4. Ask what their goals are for the next couple of years and what they value from an agency.
  5. Share some insights that show you can see round the next two bends to help them see into the future. Insights which are not well known.
  6. If the client does say “I’m not convinced I need you” then ask questions such as “What’s led you to that conclusion?” and “obviously that’s your choice. I’m wondering whether an interim three-month period might be helpful while you get yourself up to speed”
  7. If you ultimately do lose the client then make a diary note for 3 months later to follow up to see how they are doing to show you care.

A couple of suggestions to reduce the impact of potentially losing a client when a new senior client decision maker joins:

  • Make broader senior connections beyond your immediate contact. Don’t rely on just one ‘champion’ for your agency.
  • Don’t be over-dependent on any client. No client more that 10-12% of your business. So if you do lose a client the impact is limited.
  • Have a decent notice period, 3-6 months ideally. This needs to be agreed at the start of the relationship. It looks suspicious if requested several years into an agency-client relationship.
  • Always have other new business opportunities bubbling away in the pipeline.

Interestingly my agency client who had “I’m not convinced I need you” said to him took great pleasure telling me how this client has actually grown for the agency and is doing more work with them than through the predecessor.

Ain’t life sweet!

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