Ask most clients why they appoint professional or marketing services firms and you can almost guarantee a key factor will be the fact that they are felt to understand the clients business. It’s often this understanding that leads to outstanding work that is effective and right first time.
This is difficult to argue with, yet I’m starting to hear more and more clients complaining that their key partners don’t have enough understanding and empathy in a fast changing world, whilst the Partners and key suppliers often complain they are not kept in the loop enough and lack access to key senior decision makers.
One of my first jobs was to work for an ad agency that had Proctor and Gamble as a key client. My boss said to me “Simon, our job is simple – we (you!) need to understand the brand and their business better than our client.” As challenges go it was one of Olympic proportions but as somebody also once said “if you reach for the stars you don’t get a handful of ****!”
To be honest I don’t think we ever quite totally reached the goal but on many occasions it was a close call, and the key thing was, through this understanding it enabled us to be seen as a trusted advisor who was part of a team that were almost an extension of the clients business.
I recently had the chance to go and meet with the man who runs the massive Coca Cola account for MacDonald’s. What I remember vividly was modern approach to the way we worked with P&G in terms of sharing of data. In this case, the gentleman in question had two laptops on his desk – his own McDonalds one but a second one with real time global sales information to enable quick reaction to issues.
I ask myself, is this knowledge sharing starting to dwindle? I think that apart from the confidentiality issues many clients are less keen to share data because often it’s not used or they don’t see a benefit.
When it is, it can have a big impact as I found out recently when speaking to a client of a data hungry law firm who chase for information and then proactively produce analysis and insight that not only adds value to the relationship but makes their client a star in their company.
Personally, I believe it’s vital to get close to the clients business, both from an external as well as understanding what’s going on inside. The one thing you can guarantee is that all areas are going through constant change.
Furthermore, if you are working for any client you have to have a genuine desire to understand. Not surprisingly most clients can see if you are faking it.
When we discuss what can be done to further understand a client’s business the most common response is “why don’t they just ask?” Indeed, from research we conducted last year indicated that key suppliers / partners don’t regularly ask their clients “how’s business?”
Yet of course, there are some clients who don’t make it easy for you to reach out to them, be it being unavailable, not willing to share data or sometimes basic information.
So I need to ask for your advice – what would you suggest as ideas for getting closer to clients who are unwilling to meet with you or share the information you need?