Over the course of four decades of working with clients and customers all over the world, their needs regardless of industry, size, or the country they operate in, almost always distill down to eight key expectations from their service providers.
Four of these expectations are focused on outputs and outcomes and four of them focus on process or how the partner works.
Outputs: Insights, Ideas, Inspiration, and Implementation.
Process: Collaboration, Continuous Improvement, Operating Discipline, and Values.
4 Key Output Expectations
1. Insights: Clients pay the highest premium in not just economic value but their attention and their admiration to firms that bring them insights about their customers or their business. Client relationships can be salvaged, or business can be poached away by firms that can provide a new way of understanding the marketplace. Something that is so obvious and yet not obvious. If we are living in an age where people are in control and markets are being transformed, there is a premium placed on perspectives that allow a firm to better understand their customers and analyze their markets in ways that provide an edge against the competition.
2.Inspiration: External suppliers and partners see a world different than a client. Most work across different industries and have a different employee mix. Clients in these changing times want to know how they benchmark against the best. Not just their industry, but across industries. Showing them examples, exposing them to different stimuli, bringing in outside experts, all speak to this hunger, while underlining that their partners are in touch with changes happening around them.
3.Ideas: In the end despite debate as to whether they pay adequately for ideas, every client cares a lot about ideas and without a good flow of them it is hard for an outside partner to remain valuable. Even if a client does not buy the ideas, the inability to present ideas, including ones that stretch and are out there, often is reason for the clients eye to wander. Best partners provide “gifts” of a big idea or two every few months.
4. Implementation: Eventually insights, inspiration and ideas mean little if they cannot be implemented in the marketplace. Clients look for firms that have the skills either internally or thought tight partnerships to yield tangible programs, products or services into the marketplace in a cost-effective timely manner. Skills that are relevant to changing times and beat to the metronome of increasing rapidity are critical.
4 Key Process Expectations:
While insight, inspiration, ideas, and implementation are the wings of a healthy partnership, there are some processes or ways of working that are as important and often can carry a relationship when the ideas, insights, ideas, or implementation are wanting or can challenge a partnership when not present even if ideas, inspiration, and insights are flowing
1.Collaboration: Clients hate (and it is not too strong a word) the lack of collaboration between their various partners. They resent having to baby sit grownups who cannot play together. They see the friction as a loss of time and economic value. As industries blur in the digital world and many partners all claim expertise or rights to the same area (e.g., “social”) this has become an obsession with clients. The words “childish”, “soap-operatic” and” I wish I could dump the whole lot and start again” are heard. Yes, often the client’s incentives and structures encourage the petty and insecure behavior we engage in when our turf emotions and short-term economic incentives make us forget the big picture. The big picture is that clients are trying to build economic value of their brands via insights, ideas, inspiration, and cost-effective implementation and frankly will reward for that.
2. Continuous Improvement: In a world of change, businesses ask if the outside partner is continuously improving themselves. Are they remaining curious, challenging the status quo, and leveraging technology or other efficiencies costs, becoming more productive? Businesses are under intense pressure to enhance productivity and are looking for their partners to become more productive themselves. This is not just about cutting costs but also developing better product, re-using ideas from one part of the globe in another, eliminating or automating things that can be.
3. Operating Discipline: This is the least sexy and interesting part of what clients want because in many ways they expect it. Can their partner run their own business by managing budgets, schedules, legal clearances, and the like? Are they responsiveness and do they staff with capable people? Can the agency or partner make the trains run on time, read the signals, and ensure the engine stays on track? The wrong ad shipped to the wrong media company, lack of legal approval and non-responsiveness in an emergency get folks fired all the time.
4. Values: This is an expectation that has grown increasingly important over recent years as companies increasingly care about employee well-being, diversity, and purpose. Integrity and trust have always been critical to Clients, but they now want to know about the workforce of their suppliers and partners. Are they being treated well? Are the sufficiently diverse? Is the company giving back to society?
A way to build enduring Client and Partner relationships
One way to keep enduring relationships is schedule a meeting every six months with key partners and clients and provide a quick review of four areas.
1. What ideas, insights or outside inspiration were provided in the past six months?
2. What were the key challenges and successes in program implementation?
3. Where did collaboration thrive between partners with Clients and where can they improve?
4. Which products or services or employee programs were developed or enhanced over the past six months by your firm?
These meetings provide multi-faceted benefits:
1. They focus teams on making sure they are working the 8 key areas that clients evaluate their suppliers since there will be a meeting to share progress.
2. It allows clients and their partners to celebrate and often merchandise the progress they have made; share the issues they have uncovered and plan how to build on things that work and correct those that do not without all the emotion and drama of being fired or reviewed or put on notice.
3. It enables both sides to understand how expectations are changing and which areas are critical and need to be focused on.
Success in an increasingly connected world is the power of connections and relationships between people and partners. Constant updating of expectations, continuous communication and celebrations of successes build understanding and fuel enduring relationships.
Illustrations by Irena Zablotska
Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/
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