Turnover of a key position at your client’s organization – whether your agency’s direct point of contact or another senior business leader – presents a significant risk to the relationship, but as is so often the case, with the risk comes opportunity. Client-side turnover can also be leveraged beyond what you may have considered.
When a new key person comes on board in your client’s organization, they can bring with them any of these three key risks:
- Change in brand direction or strategy
- Pre-existing preferred agency relationships
- Preference for in-house talent and costs
Risk #1 – Change in brand direction or strategy
Often if a key business leader at the client firm was let go and replaced, then it could have been driven by a desire to reevaluate the brand strategy or the sales and marketing performance of the organization. The new leader may be operating under a mandate for change and improvement, meaning activities may be put on hold while reviews and evaluation are conducted.
There are two separate but related responses that the agency can take here to remain relevant and valued – “embracing the new”, and “analyzing the old”.
In many ways “embracing the new” is simply restarting the engagement and trying to get new clarity around the perceived brand objectives and business goals. The agency must demonstrate a willingness to let go of the past and adapt to the new direction. But doing so is not an exercise in flattery – it is instead a chance to revisit the pre-engagement process of asking insightful questions and challenging assumptions to arrive at real alignment. When done correctly, then familiarity with the “old way” and how the new approach differs from, or builds upon it, is a valuable asset for the agency to leverage.
Similarly, “analyzing the old” gives the agency a chance to demonstrate what was tried and learned before the new mandates were enacted. Perhaps the agency can use its analytics and experience to inform the discussion of what could or should change. Even if those decisions are not open for discussion, demonstrating mastery of the prior business objectives and how the campaign activities were directly related to them can lead to a new discussion of how the same discipline and expertise can be applied to the new direction. The agency’s approach should tell the story of how business context and digital marketing acumen are brought together to the client’s benefit. This capability will not be lost just because there is a “new sheriff in town”, it just needs to be tuned to the specific concerns and objectives of that sheriff.
Risk #2 – Pre-existing preferred agency relationships
A new CMO or other leader may bring with them a preferred vendor and a desire to use them to solve the new or inherited challenges. In some cases, the existing firm may be given very little chance to defend themselves or to pitch for retaining the business. But if you see a change coming and feel that you can make a play to retain the business, then it is worthwhile to put yourself in the client’s shoes and think about why they might bring in a familiar firm. It likely comes down to some combination of the factors that we discussed in our previous three-part series on “Proving to the Client That You Really ‘Get’ Them”:
- They believe the other firm will more quickly get to total understanding and alignment with the new direction (pre-engagement clarity);
- They believe the preferred firm already knows how to work with them and how to manage the engagement, projects, and campaigns in a manner that they like (aligning on how the Account Manager role is defined and how the relationship is managed);
- Or, they believe that they will get better metrics and analytics, in a manner that they can understand and use, and that will help them be more successful in their new role.
In our prior blog series, we tackle all three of these areas and provide some recommended proactive steps for each. When a new client leader comes in with a preferred vendor, they are defaulting to a preference for some combination of how that firm managed these three key areas. If you are going to get a chance to retain the business, then you need to demonstrate your ability to engage in all three of these areas, and to determine which are of the most importance to the new leader. The opportunity here is to successfully demonstrate to the new leader how you can meet and exceed their expectations, while you help them more effectively than a new vendor could because of the experience and understanding you bring to the engagement.
Risk #3 – Preference for in-house talent and costs
The last key risk is when a new client leader brings a strong desire for in-house talent and sets about trying to build that business case. Again, the existing agency may or may not be given a chance to directly counter such an argument, but one way to look at it is this: a risk that the client chooses to bring the work inside always exists with every client. The risk is presented in different ways by smaller or larger clients – large companies may say “we need to make a buy vs. build assessment”, or “we want more control of our timelines and processes”, while a small business may just say “I am not sure I still need this marketing” or even “why am I paying you?”.
If you are not constantly working to demonstrate your value and prove to each client why your services are the right combination of cost, expertise, capabilities, and results, then you always run the risk of someone deciding to take the DIY approach (or even the “no marketing at all” approach). The turnover of a key contact may heighten this risk, but it is not completely absent the rest of the time.
Maintaining a healthy client engagement is the key to retention in most cases, and client-side turnover may represent an acute case of higher-than-normal risk, but it still calls for the same proactive approaches to demonstrating your agency’s value. That value needs to be tailored to the client’s needs and objectives and communicated in ways that the client can both grasp and trust. Critical to navigating the departure of a key client-side contact is in understanding what is motivating the new staff person in their new role, and what they perceive to be their greatest new challenges, mandates, or threats. Then be prepared to deploy your client engagement tools and practices to address those issues and motivations head-on.