OMG! The client is freaking out and needs this thing right away!
Everytime I hear this I have to take a deep breath. I’m hoping you do too. While, sometimes, this urgency is called for and, sometimes, the solution is right… The only way we ever get to stay strategic and stay a partner and keep the client for years and years is to not take this reaction at face value.
Great strategists, like great account service people (and great creatives), understand the difference between what clients say, vs what clients really want, vs what clients actually need.
The problem with being reactive to what clients Say is that you’re not really adding any value. You’re really being an order taker and traffic cop. And, ultimately, you will end up being accountable for this. The sad thing is that as agencies we often have a fairly straightforward process to getting from Say to Need when we are being briefed on a project or pitching a client: THE BRIEF. But the moment the client or project becomes an ongoing concern, we end up leaning too much on what clients Say. Which can often be completely unintelligible or out of left field.
Hence, Clients From Hell:
And the very sad truth is that relying purely on Say will often mean tonnes of rounds of revisions, as the client’s feedback keeps changing (sometimes getting more specific and closer to what the mean and Want, but often just changing because they don’t know how to express what they mean and Want).
Even in situations where the client’s ask is actually truly urgent, taking the 10 minutes to sit down with your team and figure out what the client really Wants, and going back with “Would this help more?” and being collaborative is almost never a bad thing. But the real magic is in figuring out what a client really, and truly Needs.
The great thing is that, as we learn to go from Say to Want to Need, our value to our clients increases. After all, almost no clients are happy to be art directing… And you never really get to create magic if you’re just taking orders..
But the closer you get to Want, the less you are a commodity, and the more you turn into a Service Provider. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being a great service provider. There are some great shops that do phenomenal work by really wrapping themselves around their client and integrating into every corner of their business. These shops will never be displaced, because the cost to take them out of the System would simply be too great and too painful. Want isn’t a bad place to be! But if you want to be more than a Service Provider, you need to move closer to Need.
Great agencies, and I’ve been luck to work with many great agencies, are masters of getting to Want. They really are Strategic Partners to their clients more often than not. The fun part of this, is that the client comes to you for more work, because they like the way you think. Sadly, most clients like the way agencies think during the pitch, because we put our best people on their business for 2-4 weeks straight… and then those best people go away. The best agencies… find a way to make the client feel the same intelligence throughout the year.
But, the real magic, and where almost every agency wishes they could be, is to act as a trusted advisor. A trusted advisor gets called on all kinds of things that have nothing to do with the business, because the client truly trusts you and your judgement. This model is where many creative shops used to be, where digital shops truly long for, and where integrated shops sell their value.
But the real, absolute magic of focusing on what the client Needs, is that the client eventually comes to Need you too. It’s a lot of responsibility, requires some creative accounting to make the hours work, but trust me when I say that being the Hero is a far better way to generate new business than any other strategy or tactic. The breathless review of “omg my agency saves my life every month, I can’t live without them” always gets a fantastic reaction around the bar.
Wrapping it all up, what type of agency do you want to be? What type of agency do you want to work for? Yes, taking this journey involves training your clients, but while clients want to be right, they also want to get the right results. By asking smart questions, and not forcing “the client said this so all work must stop until it’s done” down our teams’ throats, we can do better work that truly turns challenges into magic.
Have tips for how to ask the right questions, share them in the comments belowww.