June 13, 2023

by Steven Mallon

Agencies talk a lot

There are plenty of people who have trodden the well-worn path between agency and client side. Many a poacher has turned gamekeeper in agency land!

Why do I mention this? Well, it can be a significant benefit to clients to have an agency world ‘insider’ working on their behalf, bringing experience and knowledge of the inner workings of supplier side partnerships.

Equally, it can be of great use to agencies to have an informed conduit within the client business to smooth engagement, provide channel knowledge and ensure the expectations and needs of the client are being addressed.

But for those who have flipped into the client side, it brings into broad daylight some of the less favourable behaviours of agencies. Behaviours that were perhaps less evident when in the midst of the cut and thrust of agency life and that if relayed would change the ways they interact with and even present themselves to clients.

Agencies talk a lot

The first thing that you observe is that agencies talk a lot. There’s masses of content to digest: long creds and pitch decks that cover agency heritage, their thinking, their ‘unique’ approach and process, the expertise of the team, case studies…I could go on.

But much of the time, a bit like a bad first date, the information that’s delivered is one way with little actual discourse or dialogue. In many instances, every conversation is a pitch, a soapbox-like persuasion event.

There’s no questioning to find out what a client needs or wants, what difficulties their business is facing and how the agency services and solutions can help. There is little real effort by agencies to uncover the underlying needs for their solution and, moreover, what those solutions can deliver in terms of meeting the goals, objectives, and KPI’s that the client might have.

The burning questions agencies fail to address

From a client perspective, these types of conversations, particularly in sales cycles and meetings, are pretty soul destroying.

They are left asking, how do I know that this agency genuinely understands what I need? How can I have confidence that they can help me meet the objectives I’m being targeted on? How do I know that they are materially better than the other three agencies I’ve listened to who are saying exactly the same things in different versions of a 75-slide pitch?

Much of the time, agencies fail to do this adequately. They fail to adhere to the old adage – selling isn’t telling.

If you want a client to buy into your solution, your services, from your agency, then an understanding of what the client wants to achieve, the barriers or opportunities to attaining these, and how your solution and agency specifically addresses them to unlock value, is a much more appropriate way to get buy in.

The connection between the services and solutions you are proposing needs to be direct, not opaque and up to the client to determine. Indeed, agencies are planning on charging for these services and solutions – so, how does a client know that it’s worth it?

How do they know that the commercial and strategic outcomes from the agency work (that’s what they’re buying after all) are really going to be achieved?

Changing behaviours

When you move client side you become increasingly conscious, as a client, of the behaviours of agencies and their tendency to ‘project’ is one of the most prominent. You realise that you’re not participating in some conversations and that agencies are broadcasting to you instead.

You’re also aware of how little time you have to talk to an agency about what you actually want from them, how their solutions might help you drive towards the goals and outcomes that you need.

And, if the poacher turned gamekeeper goes back to agency side to poach again, it’s a key learning that they will take with them to initiate change.

Steven Mallon

Post by Steven Mallon

Consultant at Waypoint Partners

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