I have had the privilege of working with some of the finest companies. Yesterday, as I heard input from a Client on what they value and expect most from outside partners, it struck me that across industries, across the world and across client sizes, everyone is asking pretty much for the same six things.
Three of these are outputs and three focus on how the partner works.
Outputs: Insights, Ideas, Inspiration.
Process: Collaboration, Iteration, Operating Discipline
1. Insights: Clients pay the highest premium in not just economic value but their attention and their admiration to firms that bring them insights about their customers or their business. I have seen businesses saved and businesses poached away by firms that could provide a new way of understanding the marketplace. Something that is so obvious and yet not obvious. If we are living in an age where consumers are in control, understanding them is critical.
2.Inspiration: Agencies and outside partners see a world different than a Client. Most work across different industries and have a different employee mix. Clients in these changing times want to know how they benchmark against the best. Not just their industry, but across industries. Showing them examples, taking them to conferences, bringing in outside experts, all speak to this hunger, while underlining that their partners are in touch with changes happening around them.
3.Ideas: In the end despite debate as to whether Clients pay adequately for ideas, it is clear that Clients care a lot about ideas and without a good flow of them it is hard for an outside partner to remain valuable. Even if a Client does not buy the ideas, the inability to present ideas, including ones that stretch and are out there, often is reason for the Clients eye to wander. Best partners provide “gifts” of a big idea or two every few months.
While insight, inspiration and ideas are the wings of a healthy partnership, there are some processes or ways of working that are as important and often can carry a relationship when the ideas, insights and inspiration are wanting or can challenge a partnership when not present even if ideas, inspiration and insights are flowing.
4.Collaboration: Clients hate (and it is not to strong a word) the lack of collaboration between their various partners and agencies. They resent having to baby sit grownups who cannot play together. They see the friction as a loss of time and economic value. As industries blur in the digital world and many partners all claim expertise or rights to the same area ( e.g. “social”) this has become an obsession with Clients. The words “childish”, “soap-operatic” and ” I wish I could dump the whole lot and start again” are heard. Yes, often the Client’s incentives and structures encourage the petty and insecure behavior we engage in when our turf emotions and short term economic incentives make us forget the big picture. The big picture is that clients are trying to build economic value of their brands via insights, ideas and inspiration and frankly will reward for that.
5. Improvement and Iteration:In a world of change is the outside partner improving themselves. Are they remaining curious, challenging the status quo and remaining curious, cutting costs, becoming more productive? Clients are under intense pressure to enhance productivity and are looking for their partners to become more productive themselves. This is not just about cutting costs but also developing better creative, re-using ideas from one part of the globe in an other, eliminating or automating things that can be.
6. Operating Discipline:This is the least sexy and interesting part of what Clients want because in many ways they expect it. Can their partner actually run their own business by managing budgets, schedules, legal clearances and the like. Are they responsiveness and do they staff with capable people. Can the agency or partner make the trains run on time, read the signals and ensure the engine stays on track? The wrong ad shipped to the wrong media company, lack of legal approval and non responsiveness in an emergency get folks fired all the time.
Every quarter or six months it behooves anyone serving a Client to ask themselves and then their clients:
1. What ideas, insight or outside inspiration and stimulation did we provide?
2. How can I be more collaborative, how can I get my Client to help me be more collaborative?
3. What specifics can I share with the Client as to how I improved my offerings and services recently?
The big benefits of a healthy relationship of trust, respect, wealth and a true partnership ensue as a result of being able to deliver on the six clients wants over time.