How to Avoid Dead-End Client Relationships

By | March 22, 2012
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Sometimes walking away from new business opportunities, no matter how enticing the revenue may be, is the smartest long-term decision for your agency.

Why would an agency fighting for stability and growth turn away new clients? Well, there are several reasons, such as a poor match of cultures, unrealistic expectations, or an inflated self-image (i.e. their product/business actually sucks).

So, drawing from chapter 6 of The Marketing Agency Blueprint, let’s explore the dating process that is agency business development.

Getting to Know Each Other: The Art and Science of Qualifying Leads

couple-talkingThe courting phase of agency business development shouldn’t be a one-sided assessment.

While your potential future client is analyzing your services, pricing, talent, portfolio and references, you should be equally as aggressive in determining if they are a fit for your agency. After all, you are putting your hard-earned reputation on the line with every client you represent, so short-term financial gains should be the last element affecting your decision.

Whether you use software with built-in lead scoring, or develop your own internal formula, it's important to have a standard process for ranking and prioritizing leads.

Buyer personas are the foundation of any lead scoring system. Defining and building marketing and sales strategies around buyer personas enables agencies to better target communications and content, while improving lead generation and conversion.

Start by profiling your personas so that you know strong leads when you meet them. Some of the key questions to consider when creating your personas and determining lead quality include:

  1. For startups, do they have a viable business model?
  2. For established companies, how strong is their brand and reputation?
  3. Are they a cultural fit with your agency?
  4. Do they have a distinct competitive advantage, or are they expecting your agency to magically create one?
  5. Do they have a strong marketing foundation from which to build? This includes brand, website, reach, leadership team, processes and marketing technology infrastructure (CRM and CMS for starters).
  6. How financially stable are they?
  7. Will they be project or campaign based (i.e. are they willing to make a commitment, or just in for a fling)?
  8. What are their budgets? And are budgets in line with goals?
  9. What metrics matter most? How will they define success?
  10. What is the contact’s title and responsibilities? Is that person the decision maker?
  11. What are the problems, pain points, and obstacles to success?
  12. What are the priority needs?
  13. What is the account’s growth potential?
  14. Does the agency have experience in their industry?
  15. At what stage in the business lifecycle are they?
  16. Are they seeking primarily tactical or strategic support?
  17. What are their internal marketing resources and capabilities?
  18. Do they have realistic expectation levels?
  19. What are their experiences with marketing firms? Do they have a chip on their shoulder from relationships gone bad, and will they hold it against you?
  20. What is the associated risk level? If you enter an unstable relationship, what happens to your business/life when they ditch, or you decide to dump them?
  21. What is their decision-making process?
  22. What is their timeline to get started?
  23. How strong is the lead/referral source that brought you two together?
  24. What type of C-level support exists for marketing? Are company leaders willing to take risks, and do they have the patience to do it right?
  25. Can you see yourselves spending time together? Seriously. Do you actually like them as people? It’s far easier to stay motivated and be productive when working with clients you enjoy being around.

Using these questions as a basis, agencies can construct clear profiles of the prototypical client, and evolve their sales strategies to meet their needs and goals.

Are Your Leads Marriage Material?

Commit your talent and energy to clients that will value your contributions to their business. Learn to trust your instinct, and watch for red flags, such as unrealistic expectations and a lack of respect for your time and talent during the discovery process. 

Model agencies never appear desperate for new business, even if they are. They are willing to walk away from opportunities when their leadership team determines it is not in the best interest of the agency to pursue the engagement. At that same time, they demonstrate patience and a willingness to fight for the right clients.

What’s Your Experience?

How do you assess opportunities, and avoid getting stuck in dead-end client relationships?