Saturday, December 10, 2011

Culture Eats Client Relationships for Lunch

One of my favorite business expressions is, “culture eats strategy for lunch.” The meaning here is, of course, that the power of an organization’s culture can block or foster strategy implementation. The statement connotes a visceral image, with culture chomping down on strategy and by doing do saying, “no way buddy, you don’t have a chance without me."
So it goes for client relationships. Adapting to a client’s culture is absolutely essential for success. Not prayer in the world will help if an agency or firm doesn’t understand the client’s culture and morph how they work to fit those dynamics. If you want to retain and grow client relationships, you must truly understand what the client values and the behaviors that result from those beliefs.

I can hear it now, “but we have a process and unless it's followed the results won’t happen, the creative will be lousy and the implementation won’t work.” Wrong. You can change and you must.

Here’s a quick story. During interviews for a client evaluation I heard that my client, the marketing agency, followed an elaborate and formal process for brand strategy and web development work. Not a bad process but one that had many steps and required many meetings. The client’s culture though was fast paced, “get it done by yesterday” and had little tolerance for lengthy deliberations. The ultimate product delivered was good but the manner of delivery was not. Turns out the agency won’t be doing much more work in the future.

What can be done? First, before you barge into a project, assess the client’s organization and culture. Ask the right questions. Find out, what do they believe? How do they work and communicate? Then look at your processes and people and decide what needs to change to ensure success. You don’t have to throw out the way you work, but you might make a few shortcuts or communicate in a way that will be received best.

Culture is powerful stuff. Best to respect and use it.

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