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Clients are feeling pressure in terms of both time and money – they feel the need to do more with less and are constantly being bombarded by approaches from a multitude of other agencies. On average 17 approaches a day (from all types of agencies, not just design). The fact that 64% of clients couldn’t name more than three other design agencies shows that a lot of new business approach has become background noise. They don’t have time to have exploratory ‘credential’ meetings with agencies and they don’t like to feel sold to. Instead they like to feel they have discovered the agency themselves.
Clients are interested in knowing what an agency’s core competencies are when visiting their website. 93% want to know what they are best at quickly and easily, rather than assertions that you are experts at everything. 88% of clients have not visited their agency’s website ‘in the last few months’ and when prompted to do so 44% said it ‘fails to communicate the agency I know’.
Agencies are obviously missing a trick. They need to articulate what they do simply (and differentiate themselves from competitors) and provide a reason for clients to revisit their site on a regular basis. Once a good relationship has been established, 33% of clients wish their agency offered more services. Getting a client to revisit your site (where your services are clearly explained) is a clear way of winning more business without ‘selling’ to the client.
70% of clients believe that design effectiveness can be difficult (though not impossible) to measure. Those agencies that support and encourage their clients to measure their effectiveness have an advantage. Evidence of effectiveness was also the top answer to the question ‘If a new agency had 30 seconds to say something to you, what would be most likely to get your interest?’ A perfect reason to study how others have articulated the effectiveness of their work in the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards archive.
68% of winning pitch presentations went against the brief in some way. Proof perhaps that many clients don’t really know what they want or need at the start of the process – a sentiment echoed in a recent article for the DBA by Blair Enns, ‘Quit giving the client what they want’.
Questioning the brief should be the first stage of any project, but how far you push it relates to if you are in a supplier or partner relationship with the client. There is scope for more interrogation throughout a project though, with 44% of clients wishing that their design agencies asked more questions and 30% feeling that their agency was too passive.
Agencies rarely lose a client because they were not creative enough. 89% of clients who had a weaker relationship with their agency cited client service issues as the main reason. Biggest bug-bears include failing to flag additional costs earlier, haphazard progress reports, being too passive or overly defensive/stubborn. And people have long memories – 29% of clients referred to an agency ‘mistake’ that happened over a year ago. It is failings in client servicing which lead to only 18% of clients believing that their design agency ‘regularly exceeds’ their expectations.
Jonathan’s main advice for developing and maintaining excellent client relationships was to instill a defined approach to client servicing. Actually writing down how your agency manages client relationships is important so all staff can follow the same process and understand what needs to be done in different circumstances. Making mistakes is human, how they are corrected and dealt with can actually strengthen a relationship.
Image credit: Up to the Light
Having a ‘why’ that explains your existence isn’t just limited to the clients you work for or the brands that you design. Agencies and clients alike need to identify with a deeper purpose that goes beyond just achieving results. Besides understanding what they do and how to do it, they need to feel inspired by why they’re doing it. For example, at Elmwood we believe in the transformative power of design. We believe that everyone we work with and for will be better because of design. As such, our people are more than designers or client services whizzes. They are change-agents and problem-solvers, and people that apply their unique skills to help our clients make sense of the world and make it a better place for them.
But for a purpose to stick, it needs to be lived every day. It needs to be reflected in your values and behaviours. This isn’t easy to do no matter what size your business is, but it gets more tricky as the business starts to grow nationally and internationally. Ensuring that the people you bring on board believe in the same things you do can help overcome this challenge. At Elmwood, every new joiner around the world receives a little hand signed book called ‘What makes Elmwood, Elmwood’. In it we explain what makes us tick, what we value, and what to expect. But it can also be reinforced by sending some of your key people to help set up your new locations to embed your value and behaviours. That way the understanding of your purpose gets transplanted and, of course, adapted to fit the local culture and the diversity of the local team. Reinforce that with totems, icons and communications that support your purpose, and no matter where you go you’re always ‘at home’.
For the workplace to be a great place to work, it needs to respect your abilities and stretch them beyond where you think they could go. One of the most valuable pieces of career advice I was given, was given to me by Jonathan Sands, the owner of Elmwood. He told me very simply that I needed to step outside of my comfort zone. And it was true. He subsequently started to push me in directions I’d never considered possible. I went from being a production assistant to becoming what I am today, managing partner of our UK business. And we take a similar approach to everyone who works at Elmwood. Everyone has a learning and development plan and we look for opportunities for people to work on diverse projects in diverse teams that stretch their skills.
The same holds true for the kind of work we bring into our studios. Nothing is more demotivating than working on a project that you don’t believe in. Working on a project you can believe in and being able to use design to take brands to new places motivates everyone. We all want to get up in the morning and work on something that makes your socks go up and down. That puts tremendous pressure on businesses to get work in that makes your people tick. This doesn’t always mean working on big projects with big budgets and big expectations. At times these projects can be the most challenging ones to work on, but extremely rewarding for the team. Working across diverse, international teams in which everyone has an equal voice and where extraordinary ideas are championed. Working on smaller projects or projects that stretch skills and ability can be just as motivating but brings different challenges. The key remains, however, that the work you bring into the business is congruent with the kind of work you believe in.
We work in a young industry where people actively seek out experiences that take them to the next level. This can bring a headache to many companies, but embracing different types of people with different career expectations is good for business. Diversity encourages creativity and improves the skills of the wider team, and results in positive outcomes for clients. We have a saying at Elmwood, which is that whether you’re with us for six months, six years or until you’re sixty, we want our people to enjoy the ride. When they leave we want them to have left a mark, to feel that they have added to their knowledge, and to have got even better at what they do and brilliant at how they do it.
To end where I began, greatness in business is not only quantified by the rate of revenue growth or by the bottom line. It is also measured by the happiness and satisfaction of your people. To paraphrase Richard Branson, if you look after your people, they will look after the success of your business. It’s that simple.
Image credit: Elmwood