Agencies: Make Impact in Your First 90 Days with a New Client

By | May 31, 2016
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Onboarding A New Client PR2020For many agencies, the most successful client relationships begin well before a contract is ever signed. For example, many of our best partners are network referrals, subscribe to regular agency resources, and are generally aligned with our overall mission and values.

Sounds great, right? In general, it sure is. And just as new clients expect a lot from an agency investment, it’s our job to deliver on those expectations.

Yet over time, as I’m sure we’ve all learned the hard way, there can be a disconnect. As Mike Kaput penned on the PR 20/20 blog: “A full 80% of CEOs don’t trust their marketing teams ... Let that sink in. Our job is to develop credible, profitable connections with customers—and with the people that hire us.”

What causes distrust, and why do many new relationships fail? According to Korn Ferry research, as presented in Penn State's MBA program, common mistakes include:

  • Failing to establish strategic priorities (23.5%).
  • Committing cultural gaffes / political suicide (16.4%).
  • Waiting too long to make an impact (15.8%).

So how do we show value, impact performance and become indispensable to our clients? The first 90 days of a new client partnership set the stage, instill confidence in the agency-client relationship, and ensure a positive tone for the future of the account.

The objective for our first 90 days: accelerate our transition from a value consumer to a value contributor.

Agency-Client Onboarding: First 90 Days, from PR 20/20 and Marketing Agency Insider from MarketingAgencyInsider

Client Onboarding: How to Add Value in the First 90 Days 

The following is a glimpse into the first 90-days of a new PR 20/20-client relationship. Basically, it’s 90 days of accelerated discovery, strategy, builder and driver activities, that aim to set accounts up for performance impact.

“You’re going to be defined by your first 90 days. You’ve got to act."

- Former GE CEO, Jack Welch 

Below, I’ve outlined a few highlights from our agency’s mindset and methodology (we can’t give it all away, but it’s a start!). 

Pre-Start: Mindset = Homework + Due Diligence 

Getting the right clients is key to making lasting impact. Before kicking off a new partnership, do your homework in terms of learning the company and product, confirming goals and expectations, and beginning to plan strategy.

Before a contract is signed, set the relationship up for success. Think holistically about touchpoints during the process, which include but are not limited to:

  • Marketing (network, attract, nurture). How did the contact hear about your agency, and what are his or her expectations heading into conversations about a partnership?
  • Business Development and Sales (vet, nurture, proposal). Mutually, is it a good fit? Can we make an impact, and truly make a partnership work?
  • Client Services (relate, build trust, position). Who will staff the account, and what can we do to set the account team up for a successful relationship?

During the pre-start phase, focus on doing a lot of listening, building the foundations of a good relationship, brainstorming that list of early wins, and identifying opportunities to add value.  

First Few Weeks: Mindset = Learner + Listener

Now’s the time when you have an opportunity to get the lay of the land, including product, people and process. Set up casual meetings with folks across the company to learn about needs, expectations and history. Ask for learning opportunities. Be a sponge. Basically, use this time to prevent yourself from the second most common mistake above, “committing cultural gaffes / political suicide.”

Many times, agencies don’t have this opportunity. To make sure our team gains a seat at the table and has face time with clients from the start, we make it a point to visit and implement a Marketing Growth Hackathon™ within the first few weeks of a new client relationship.

During it all, take notes. Start building your approach to a strategic marketing plan in the background.

By Month One: Mindset = Plan, Buy-In, GSSD

By the end of the first month, you should have what you need to benchmark performance to-date, set strategic goals for future growth, and present your marketing vision and approach to your client. Make sure clients are involved in the process, as we do with hackathons, so that they’re already bought in and aligned in terms of overall marketing strategy and top campaigns. 

From there, take your best campaign ideas and plot them out to start getting work done. The extra “S” in the GSD (get $!*# done) acronym above is for smart, strategic or just sweet. You decide. Just make sure to prioritize the work that gets early results. And while you’re doing it, always be looking for additional ways to add value. 

Day 90: Mindset = Work, Leverage, Performance 

By day 90, our goal is to have our first campaign launched and bringing in results (consider a lead generation campaign or stale-contact re-engagement campaign, for example). Early progress builds trust. It also ensures the agency is viewed as a reliable extension of the client’s business. 

Continue relationship builders with your clients, with activities like a bi-weekly call, continual campaign performance reporting, regular brainstorm sessions, or frank conversations on what’s working / what’s not. And let’s not forget: celebrate the wins together!

“Make yourself available, work hard, and over time you will make yourself indispensable.”

- Richard Branson, Founder at Virgin for All, via LinkedIn


Agency Homework: Review Your Own First 90

Now that you know some of what our agency is focused on during the start of a new client relationship, I’d urge you to:

  • Review your own onboarding process.
  • Identify the big wins and relationship builders, and ensure these are happening across each new account.
  • Take stock of your agency’s top strategic approaches or deliverables, and figure out whether there’s a way to insert them into the process (as we did with the hackathon).
  • Talk to newer clients at the 90-day mark: what’s working, what’s not, and what can your agency do to make the relationship even stronger?

What are your top tips for making impact as early as possible? Would love to hear more ideas in the comments below. 

Marketing Growth Hackathon