Chapter 10 - Be Adamant - Sticking to Your True North


When attempting to understand the benchmarks of good client and vendor engagements it became clear after the first 7 or 8 interviews that digital marketers that stick to their true north (on pricing, on terms of engagement, on discovery, on the importance of longer term rather than 90-day projects) have greater success than those who are willing to "adjust their compass" with every client.

Bill Hunt, founder of Back Azimuth, shared that he had turned down an RFP from a very large, prominent technology company.

Hunt ignored the RFP and staff continued to request a response from his agency. He finally shared that he didn't view the company as a viable partner. He added that the company had had 5 agencies in 7 years and he had no reason to believe his agency would net different results. He also shared that the RFP outlined the specifics of the work to be executed. "We're not just tacticians, we're strategists. If you already have a strategy in place, you don't need us." Hunt doesn't alter his compass and his strength in knowing his "true north" paves the path for exceptional relationships with his clients.

What Hunt understands (that frankly most agencies and consultants don't) is the need to know who you are and what you desire in your partnerships and to never abandon that understanding, regardless of the potential revenue. Every project Hunt chooses has to meet this simple but profound test 1) Is it revenue generating? 2) Is it intellectually stimulating? 3) Is it fun? If the project doesn't meet the criteria, they pass. Of all the pain suffered in vendor/client relationships, much of that pain, frustration and eventual loss comes from not knowing who you are and what you stand for as an organization.

When asked "What is the number one cause of failure in digital marketing relationships between agencies and brands?" Ian Lurie, Founder of Portent Interactive, shared, 

"It's a tie:

Lack of understanding: The agency comes in with their 'List Of Things We Will Do' and charges ahead, not really understanding the client's needs or purpose. The client comes in laser-focused on one tactic and won't accept advice, no matter how good, because they fail to understand the agency's role as an advisor.

Lack of leadership: A client is paralyzed, because there are conflicts between departments or decision makers and their boss won't make a call. Or, an agency makes random decisions regarding services, budget or staffing, constantly veering from one workflow to another. The onus is on the agency to understand the client's problem, but the client or CMO has to be willing to provide clarity about the problem and both need to agree upon the course of action to resolve the problem."

Greg Jarboe, Founder & CEO of SEO PR, shared how he and his team choose which clients they work with. Jarboe comes back from a conference or presentation and passes all of his leads, sometimes more than 100, to his internal staff. They execute a vetting process with military-like precision and pass the newly vetted list back to Jarboe, usually whittled down to just 3 or 4.

Jarboe shared that in his long working relationship of more than 10 years with the woman on his staff responsible for the process, he's only gone against her advice 3 times. And every time he regretted that choice. She saw something Jarboe didn't; unrealistic expectations, too many vendor relationships in a short period of time, inability to give time to the discovery process, unwillingness to commit to time in strategy before jumping into tactical execution.

RFP's (request for proposal) are often a starting point of discussion for a new brand and agency relationship. Bruce Clay, Founder of Bruce Clay Inc and author shared that "99% (of RFP's ) are very general, don't illustrate the real problem and don't allow for strategic thinking on the part of the agency." Clay recommends understanding the business problem and encouraging partnership prior to creation of or response to an RFP.

Agencies who are willing to pass on clients who don't respect the contracts, strategies and processes they've created find themselves with better, longer lasting client relationships.

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