Why Educating Buyers Of Marketing Or Creative Services Makes Sense – And Why It May Not

rockstarYour clients think you’re a Rockstar. However, calculating how much time and effort to invest into a potential new client relationship involves evaluating how much income is possible offset by the real cost to secure the business. It’s an important decision – one you’ll need to seriously consider.

In the past, marketing, advertising or creative businesses have often pitched their services to a new client (as portrayed in the popular AMC dramatic series “Mad Men” with coverage in industry publication ADWEEK Magazine). Generally speaking, the Agency endeavors to create a series of meetings and capabilities presentations that are designed to wow and impress the new client and hopefully culminate in a contract for the Agency’s services. Corporate marketing departments function in a similar manner whereby client-vendor relationships with other company departments (and the new business courtship) is handled internally.

Regardless of the environment, it’s important to understand that educating the client comes at a real cost. The process can be time-consuming and include a wide variety of hard costs that are often unrecoverable if the sale is not consummated. So it’s vital to recognize when you’re tracking a good sales process or simply binging on the activity.

Many companies request full Agency capabilities presentations and are sincere in hiring an Agency to help them. But for others their real intent is to receive a free education at the Agency’s expense. Examples of this are “hypothetical” marketing problems discussed at meetings (“Tell me how you would solve this type of problem . . .”) Even worse, your Agency is asked to perform some or all of the new client’s work on “spec” (meaning that “If we like your work then we will pay for it.”) These businesses lack the insight to understand what the Agency offers as a value proposition. As a result, there is no potential in developing the critical Win-Win relationship which is necessary for long-term success. Even though it is not easy to turn away business many times it is the correct decision for the Agency to make.

Another lesson I’ve learned over the years involves an inverse proposition – one that relates to the service the Agency provides. The BEST clients will want to hire you and keep their account in order . . . they will seek a long-term Win-Win relationship with you . . . they will allow you to do your best work free and unencumbered. The WORST clients will do just the opposite.

Certainly educating the buyer has a positive impact on the way a product or service is sold. However, educating the mass market is a huge undertaking that few businesses are equipped to handle. On the small screen the 1960s are depicted as the heyday of Advertising (á la “Mad Men”). Agency account executives schmoozed clients with huge ad budgets and the fast lifestyles and the three martini lunches were definitely de rigueur. The world changed.

How we’ve changed is interesting. Meeting the demands of our clients places special requirements on us. We have empowered ourselves with new tools and sensibilities. We fully embrace the Web, Social Media and the latest Mobile technology. It’s a 24/7 global marketplace. But our courtship with new business remains relatively unchanged. We still need to diligently educate the buyer, effectively communicate the value of our work and build profitable relationships with clients who seek success.

Properly educating your clients is one way to achieve Rockstar status. Or something close to it!

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10 Responses to Why Educating Buyers Of Marketing Or Creative Services Makes Sense – And Why It May Not

  1. Being asked “hypothetical” questions about how one would approach a project is a thinly veiled request to work for free. I always counter that sort of query by citing the need to do research and discovery in order to give a meaningful answer, which by the way is covered in paragraph 3, line 5 of my proposal, Mr. Client. If they counter-counter with needing to see if I’m a “good fit” for the project, I refer them to my portfolio and my references. That’s what those things are for, after all. I don’t mind having my brain picked if it’s about helping the prospect make a good choice of contractor (me). Client education is a great way to demonstrate expertise, but it doesn’t include doing the work before getting hired.

  2. You raise some excellent points Laurel.

    Building successful client relationships is an art unto itself. In the end we must assume the responsibility of guiding, informing and educating the clients we serve!

  3. Hi Kevin, finding the right balance between demonstrating that I have sufficient expertise to do the job and not giving all my knowledge away for free is a question I have been tackling in my business. When dealing with smaller businesses in particular, I find I have to take a more educational approach, which inevitably means sharing more information. I have had instances where they have not hired me, but taken my ideas and implemented them badly with inevitable poor results. My judgement of how to tackle a business presentation has definitely improved since those days and I have learnt to approach each client on a case by case basis.

    Louise

    • Hi Louise,

      Thank you for sharing some of your experiences with prospective clients. Evaluating the earnest needs of a prospective client requires one set of skills and protecting your intellectual property and products takes another. It’s very difficult to put these into an iron clad set of rules that work in every situation.

      The best way to eliminate this problem is to have the new client commit to you contractually. Never give away any product or service that other clients are willing to pay for. Finally, seek out someone you respect and ask them to act as your mentor in your field. They can offer you a wealth of information and guidance that will serve you well for years to come!

  4. Sophisticated buyers of creative services don’t need education they need a business outcome. Business outcomes are what clients value, not your services. They can get that anywhere at any price. My suggestion is to connect the value you provide to the client’s desired outcome not in the deliverables.

    • Hi Thomson,

      I agree with you to a point.

      The outcome is provided by individuals that sell services aligned with the need(s) of the client. They are not “canned” nor do they appear suddenly or “magically” from an unknown source. They come from talented individuals who know their craft and are engaged contractually for these services. The “outcome” you mention cannot be engineered absolutely therefore it is impossible to guarantee success.

      No one owns a crystal ball that is accurate 100 percent of the time.

  5. Ann Druce says:

    I completely agree that the best clients want a mutually beneficial relationship.One way to find out how serious a potential client is is to get them to sign off a cost estimate for an initial part of the job. This way, they minimise their commitment and risk, and you don’t give away your intellectual capital.
    Every client who has signed off on a CE like this has gone ahead with the project. On the other hand, I am aware of more than one client who balked at paying for an intial portion did not pursue the project with any agency. But hey, if you can get a strategy or concepts for free, why not have a look and decide later if you want to go ahead?

    • Hi Ann,

      Thanks for your great comments.

      Clients relationships are tough and getting tougher. The real acid test is when they will contractually engage the agency. Any agency that works on “spec” or similar is operating at their own risk. This is something I have never done and will never do!

  6. Kevin, I have always been opposed to doing work on spec, even years ago when I freelanced for an ad agency. Clients’ expectations were high and only the “big guys” could afford to submit proposals, eliminating the smaller suppliers. It was never fair and is even more unjust today.

    • Elaine,

      Thank you for your comments.

      I completely agree with you on the subject of spec work. It can undermine the development of an agency/client relationship based on mutual trust, cooperation and sound business.

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