Think of the last time you went shopping online. Was it for clothes? Shoes? Maybe even a graphic designer?

We live in an age where creative contractors are only a click away. More and more, clients are hiring them for single projects or just a few months at a time. The industry has moved to this project-based model, and partnerships between clients and agencies no longer mean as much as they once did.

This trend is anything but surprising, however, considering the way the nature of the work has changed. In the past, advertising agencies did advertising: They created ads and bought space to run those ads. Usually, those media buys were for longer periods of time, and agencies made most of their money off the commissions. To guarantee the agency was paid and the client’s budget was maximized, they had to enter into a long-term contract before any work could be done.

Today, agencies are doing much more than advertising. They’re developing strategic sales plans. They’re helping with client retention. They’re fostering brand evolution. These are fee-based projects, which means they don’t depend on media commissions.

In the midst of this industry shift, the way your agency sells — or doesn’t sell — its value to clients can make or break your chance for a long-term partnership.

Sell Solutions, Not Things

When an agency makes the mistake of teaching its clients it sells things rather than solutions, clients begin to think of it as a place to shop for a website, brochure or TV spot – rather than looking to invest in long-term strategic ideas and business solutions. Think about it: People don’t change accountants or attorneys every six months because there is value in the professional truly knowing the individual’s business. Agencies can provide that same value, but you have to show — and sell — it.

Marketing is a Marathon

By helping your client understand the benefits your partnership brings to the table, you’ll spur him to invest in long-term solutions. Here are just a few reasons your client needs a running buddy:

  • Depth of understanding: Your team members can invest themselves more deeply in a brand because they know they’re in it for the long haul. This justifies the skin in the game.
  • Practice makes perfect: Working with the same partner for a long time allows you both to plan and execute with precision for better results.
  • A second pair of eyes: As your agency becomes ingrained in your client’s organization, you’ll be able to help him identify new opportunities for revenue and cost savings. This will allow your client to focus on his overarching business goals rather than just his marketing goals.

Finding the Right Partner

Similar to our personal lives, finding the right business partner is no easy task. To make sure your long-term relationship is mutually beneficial and built to last, look for a client who is:

  • A big thinker. You want someone who brings ideas to the table and doesn’t just react to yours.
  • Willing to invest. Relationships take time and effort to build.
  • Able to offer exclusivity. Look for someone who will allow you to be set apart in your business category, whether it’s by geographic area or in a specific market.
  • Actively working to save you time and money. After all, it is a partnership, which means it’s a two-way street.

Be a Better Business Partner

A long-term relationship with a client is a business partnership. And that means your agency needs to hold up its end of the deal by understanding the business’s goals and finding new solutions — beyond marketing ideas alone. You’ll need to:

  • Staff for success. Your employees — especially on the account service side — need to be business-savvy.
  • Ask tough questions. Push your clients to make decisions based on achieving measurable goals tied to overall goals.
  • Bring business solutions. Think logistically, rather than just creatively, about pricing strategies and distribution ideas.

By selling your products as packaged ideas and solutions — rather than just products — you’ll help your client see the need for a long-term partnership. When both parties are committed to providing value to each other, you’ll set the stage for a business partnership that will last. And who knows — your client may even stop shopping around.

Originally published May 20, 2013 1:00:11 AM, updated April 09 2018

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Losing Clients