Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Client Feedback Directs Growth Strategy.

A client retention case study.

Diver’s client, a medium-sized digital marketing agency, let’s call it “Cool Firm,” won several projects to reinvigorate three websites for a national retail chain, “Big Box.” Not a huge contract but one that required working across multiple divisions and held the promise of additional work should things go well.

The project goals were to bring energy and life to the Big Box brand online and highlight new products lines. Cool Firm was one of many agencies working for the Big Box and they saw this as a key opportunity to capture more share of customer. For over a year or so Cool Firm worked diligently on the Big Box account and while there were some bumps along the road, they achieved what they thought were good results. But there were questions….

Diver was hired to uncover perceptions of Cool Firm’s performance and develop recommendations for improving the relationship with Big Box.

After a thorough briefing from the project team, Diver conducted six, one-on-one interviews with Big Box marketing leaders, each one-half hour in length.

The findings were enlightening. Cool Firm was perceived as fun to work with, responsive and talented. Yet, there were some major concerns.  Compared to other agencies, Cool Firm was viewed as less innovative and offering fewer ideas for digital and social media marketing. On an administrative level, estimating and budgeting were so frustrating for Big Box staff that additional work Cool Firm should have earned went to another firm. One key Big Box leader felt that dialog about fees was so insufficient that it made her question the overall relationship.

After an initial report with findings and recommendations, Diver and Cool Firm leaders met to discuss both strategic and tactical implications for the Big Box client relationship. Based on the report and the discussion, Diver created a Roadmap that provided clear direction on how to improve the client retention and grow sales. The Roadmap included an overall vision of the Big Box relationship as an anchor account that could be realized with four strategies:

  • Demonstrate Cool Firm’s expertise as the one-stop, go to digital shop.
  • Showcase Cool Firm’s innovative practices and results from other client work.
  • Invest in research and thought leadership and bring that to Big Box marketers in a variety of ways.
  • Engage the Cool Firm’s partners in more relationship building efforts with key Big Box leaders.

Diver then worked with Cool Firm’s account leaders to develop a tactical plan to implement the four strategies above.

While it’s still early in the Roadmap execution there have been some positive signs:

  • Big Box has engaged Cool Firm with several new, high profile projects.
  • Communication between Big Box marketing leaders Cool Firm partners has reach new levels of intimacy and frequency.
  • Cool Firm has reinvigorated its research function and has delivered several studies on the integration of social media retail marketing. Feedback from Big Box has been excellent. 
  • The Big Box team is reenergized and feels confident of its plan to win more work.

Diver will monitor the implementation of the Roadmap and will conduct client evaluations again in a year to assess progress.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Curse of Knowledge: Client Retention Obstacle 4

Experience and knowledge, tied to success, come with price. They can carve a deep rut that’s hard to climb out of. It’s called the “Curse of Knowledge” and it can impact client retention and client relationships.

Experience vs. "wow." I was evaluating a client for a design firm who was working for a Dean at a prestigious university. The Dean wanted an architect with significant experience to conduct a planning study and create preliminary designs. He also wanted a “wow” factor for the building. Ultimately, he desired to build something unique that other universities didn’t have.

They hired my client and thought they got both – experience and the the ability to create a “wow.” But the "Curse" was in play. Designs and plans came through that were tested and proven. They’d certainly work well. But it was a struggle to get something new, something that hadn’t been done before.

"I like them but..."
In the interview the feedback came like this:

"I really liked the firm. They are organized, responsive, good people, fun to work with. Very knowledgeable.  Creative? Well not as much as we wanted. They know an awful lot but I expected more creativity and innovation."

The feedback was unanimous: knowledgeable, experienced, responsive, smart – absolutely. Creative – not enough. They knew too much.

The “Curse of Knowledge” struck again. What’s the future like for growing this client relationship? Up a steep hill for sure.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Assessment - The Key to Client Retention

In a previous post I suggested that account and project leaders lead their clients. And that clients will follow only if the leaders possess credibility, which is composed of the conviction, courage, care, competence and composure. By demonstrating these traits, account and project leaders can influence their clients to follow their direction and make the right decision.

The weak links – care and competence. Many studies have shown that leaders are weakest in two traits  - care and the softer side of competence: communication, teaching and facilitation. A leader can strengthen those areas by applying the right style of leadership. To know what style is best, the client’s readiness must be assessed.  Since readiness is a function of will and skill, asking the right questions about those is core to the assessment.

Assessment questions about skill. Here are some examples of questions to assess how skilled a client is at a task, whether that is gathering needed information, putting together a plan, making a design decision, getting her boss to approve a budget, etc.
  • How many times have you been through this before?
  • Did you get training at some point for this?
  • Help educate me…how do you actually go about doing this?
  • What do you need to get this done?

Assessment questions about will.
  • What has your experience been like when you did this before?
  • How did it make you feel?
  • Were you successful in accomplishing this before?
  • How do you like doing this?

Apply the right style. Once an account or project manager understands the client’s readiness, they can apply the right leadership style. For example, if a client has not made many design decisions or recommendations before, they could apply a style that is very directive by providing a list of criteria to make decisions. They could also practice the design review with the client ahead of time.  

Using the most effective style will ensure a successful client relationship and improve client retention. More on defining various leadership styles will be offered in subsequent posts.