You're Fired and It's All Your Mom's Fault

Keeping Your Job Requires Being Honest, not Nice

By Published on .

Tom Martin
Tom Martin
Have you ever received the call? You know the one where the client tells you how much they love you, respect you and the contributions your agency has made to their brand but ...

That's not a fun call. You've just been dumped and while sometimes you have an inkling it's coming, so often you hear agencies say that they're totally surprised and often I believe they are.

But why? Why is it that a client-agency relationship can unravel right beneath our noses and we don't see it coming? I think it comes down to human nature. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Isn't that what your mother taught you? I know mine did. And therein lies the problem.

Dissatisfied clients don't want to be mean. They don't want to tell you your creative product has been lackluster or that they're underwhelmed. They don't want to tell you that your interactive capabilities (or lack thereof) is unacceptable.

They like you and your team. They want you to like them too. So they sit and say nothing. Until it's too late. Another agency catches their eye with compelling work or a truly innovative idea. So they let that agency continue to whisper in their ear and they agree to have lunch or to stop by the competitor's shop for a free "What's Around The Corner" presentation. And slowly, step-by-step they find that they like you, but they love the other shop. And then it happens. You get the call.

So if that is the story, how do we rewrite the ending?

How about this?
Don't wait to be told what to do next. I remember talking to the head of an agency one day and asking why the firm wasn't doing more to understand and educate its clients in the art of conversational marketing (aka social media). He responded, "Well our clients aren't asking for that kind of stuff yet." While they may not be asking, does that mean they are not curious or interested or just assuming you shouldn't need to be asked? Or maybe someone else is educating them for you.

What if you hired a scientist? Well maybe not a real scientist but a person that thinks like a scientist. Hire or redeploy an internal asset that enjoys experimenting and is comfortable with failing, because they value knowledge more than victory. What if you had a person like that on staff that was constantly focused on "what if" instead of "what was"? Would that create a chance to have unique and interesting dialogues with your clients?

Ask how you're doing. This one is such a no-brainer but you'd be surprised by how few do it. There are tons of easy-to-use, low-cost online survey tools on the market. Get a license to one and start a client feedback survey. Issue it once a year, quarter or week if you think you need to. But seriously think about having one because anonymity breeds truth. Sure you may get a client to give you the cold, honest facts over lunch, but you can almost guarantee you'll get the unvarnished truth via a truly anonymous survey.

Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you're truly doing all that you can for every client. And if you're not, ask yourself why. Often the answer will be compensation driven but that's ok. Write it up. Create a "new business" presentation for your client showing them all the things you could be doing for them but then explain the financial implications of your ideas. Use the presentation as a chance to start a dialog. Who knows, they might decide to incrementally fund your ideas, shift focus and budget from existing programs or just do nothing because their budgetary hands are tied. But even if they choose the last option - you still get credit and you still get dialog.

And if you're talking, then you're one step closer to communicating.

Tom Martin created Converse Digital to help companies and agencies monitor, create and engage in digital conversations. Want to talk? Just email [email protected] or follow @TomMartin on Twitter.
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