When it comes to client/agency relationships under account-based models, there’s often a moment where a contract is signed and both parties are “in.” It has benefits for sure, but we not-so-quietly decline to put clients or ourselves in an “all in” position.

Client–Agency RelationshipsInstead, we hold to a project-based model where we make each engagement a chance to prove our value.

It’s a business decision for us -one we stand by, even after eight years. For our part, we want to be a results-based agency that’s held to a standard of measurable success. We believe that by demonstrating success over time makes us trustworthy, which puts us into a position where collaboration is more fluid, initiatives are more ambitious and results are more impressive. For our clients, it’s a way for them to see how our processes work, kick the tires and decide to hire us for the next project.

What this approach means for us and clients

There are too few opportunities for us to pull back the curtain and invite you to look at how we work with client relationships, and if they can can help you with your initiatives. Well, this article attempts to do just that. It works through four client relationship principles that help us engage with new clients, and in turn make us a team that clients want to work with.

1) Invest in client education

A couple of years ago, a large commercial distributor in the industrial manufacturing industry came to us with SEO questions that had been going unanswered. Their marketing director expressed interest in not only hiring us to increase their digital visibility and possibly much more, but also in learning about the best way to measure success and replicate it in the future.

Of course we could do that. In fact, we love this kind stuff. We’ve always found that when we invest time and energy into educating our clients, there’s a new level of collaboration that is able to happen. Because teaching gives everyone a similar vocabulary and foundational knowledge, when we start discussing strategies and metrics, the ideas are able to quickly become more targeted, more measureable and produce better results.

2) Listen

Listening is taking everything we just said about educating a client and turning it around. It’s about us opening up as a team and learning from the people who are coming to us for support.

To kickoff a project, the first several conversations we have are all about them (as they should be) to learn about industry trends and business objectives. We do this, not just to understand a business, but to hear firsthand what the deeper business problems and frustrations are that they’re looking to solve. It’s often the case that the root of the problem isn’t evident at first. To find it usually takes patience mixed with asking the right questions and getting an education in that business. Only then can we lay a groundwork for how we’ll solve the problem together.

3) Address issues quickly

No one likes to talk about issues because it can be uncomfortable. Most agencies talk about this in terms of “open communication,” or “transparency,” (we’re even guilty of doing this at times)—just to make it sound better. With project-based engagements, however, there isn’t time to beat around the bush. Problems can’t be ignored and there’s no room for passive aggressive behaviors. If something is wrong, it gets fixed—either by ourselves or our clients. Addressing issues quickly and efficiently when they come up is one of the best things we can do to demonstrate value to a client. It’s why it is here at the third spot on our list of principles.

4) Proven value is the best client-retention strategy

We know that at the end of the day, proving the value of our work is the best way to earn future engagements. It’s one of our favorite aspects of the project-based model. New business from existing clients is not something we take for granted, instead we develop the relationships and prove ourselves time after time until we’ve developed a strong partnership. By accepting the responsibility and accountability, we come alongside our clients and help them grow. In turn, they entrust us with more and more of their budgets over longer engagements.

Final Thoughts

This by no means is a one-size-fits-all solution, but as we continue to abide by our project-based model, these principles continue to help us cultivate strong client relationships. Like we said, it’s a business decision. That client that we mentioned in the beginning, who came to us for SEO... we’ve been working with them project-by-project ever since. Today we provide them with comprehensive, strategic direction for a majority of their marketing initiatives. Even as they’ve become smarter marketers, the investment we’ve made into their education and our ability to listen and communicate has given them more than enough reason to trust us as their sole strategic digital partner. We wouldn’t want it any other way.

Emily Bell Emily Bell

Digital Marketing Strategist at Station Four