The Dangers of Agency Commoditization, Part Two

Follow these strategies to build healthy agency relationships

This is the second article of a two-part series. To read Part One, click here.

These trends will force us to communicate with external service providers in new ways. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Stop issuing RFPs to outside firms for your strategic initiatives. RFPs are sales prevention tactics to keep administrative people busy and dehumanize marketing. They may be great for buying coffee service, but not for building your digital presence. Are you going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe millions of dollars with an agency based on price? You’re building a trusted adviser relationship. You need those people to have your back when your brand is in peril, and when talent turnover happens. 
  2. When meeting with your outside services providers, clearly articulate three areas: your business objectives, your measures of success, and the value of meeting those objectives. Alan Weiss, author of 60+ books on consulting, innovation, and entrepreneurship, created this framework. It elevates the conversation and creates a peer relationship.

During your conversation with an outside firm, be prepared to answer these questions:

  • Why are we looking at this initiative now?
  • Why do you want to work with us?
  • What do we want to accomplish?
  • How will we both know we were successful and met these business objectives? What performance improvements are possible as a result?
  • What motivates you to succeed?
  • What must happen for both of us to achieve big wins? (joint accountabilities)

When we’re talking with outside firms, it is tempting to describe activities, such as “we need a new PR campaign.” That turns us into transactional conversationalists. 

Over time, these questions will help you escape a common marketing obsession with activity and shift towards business outcomes. The objective is not to build a new website. That’s an activity. Instead, you should be talking to them about creating double digit lead growth, higher customer conversion and retention. Instead of saying, “We need your help addressing a crisis du jour,” tell the advisors or agencies that your business objective is to quickly restore brand confidence. These subtle language shifts help you focus on strategic outcomes. 

(I also recommend “12 Crucial Questions Before Signing with a New Agency.” Check out the Forbes article featuring seasoned agency veteran Greg Kihlstrom here.)

  1. Share your risk mitigation strategy and top ten “reputation builder/killer” list with agencies. It’s incumbent upon us to protect our brand and digital properties from cyber bullying, cyber-security, fake news and other egregious acts. That’s why we need to understand and participate in internal risk mitigation conversations. 

Meet with board members to discuss your risk mitigation strategy as well. In addition, spend private time with your CEO. Discern how their values will be expressed across your entire universe of brand touch points.

Based on that discussion, create and distribute a list of ten things that will enhance or destroy the organization’s reputation with your leadership team. Tell them what outside firms you’re evaluating, and why you feel it is important to be transparent. Ask them to be champions of your risk mitigation strategy. If you are concerned about competitive issues, agency finalists should sign an NDA.

  1. Double down on human-to-human interactions. These do not require AI, a MarTech solution, nor an app. 

Data analytics expert Pedro Uria-Recio’s recent post on LinkedIn resonated with me. He said, “Artificial intelligence will drastically change our life at work. Paradoxically…it will push us to focus on inherently human activities which cannot be automated, such as:

  • Judgement: using our knowledge of organization and culture, as ethics and business sense;
  • Creativity: bringing together diverse ideas and designing integrated, workable solutions;
  • Empathy: social relations such as networking, coaching, and collaborating.”

Consider attending more customer and agency conferences to interact directly with them in an informal setting. Volunteer to judge at an upcoming marketing competition. Seek out mentoring organizations who can pair you with a young professional or graduate student.

Now is the time to invest in human connection and meaningful dialogue. I guarantee your competitors are still obsessing over their RFP pitch deck.

What can you do differently NOW to transform your relationships with advisers and agencies?

Copyright 2018, Lisa Nirell. All Rights Reserved.

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