Great expectations: why businesses and agencies break up

Anecdotally, we know a high percentage of new clients are running away from an agency they weren’t happy with. But a rocky relationship is easy to fix if you set and meet expectations with openness and honesty.

Agencies promise a lot of things. Creativity. Innovation. Inspiration. Wacky studio spaces with foozball, Alexa and collectable figurines. Good coffee, passable decaf and trendy tisanes. The self-conscious, sometimes eccentric accessories of the agency-client relationship.

Of course, agencies promise serious stuff too, usually along the lines of great results and first class service.

If you’ve broken a big promise – one that has wasted resources and money or failed to hit targets, for example – be prepared to break up. Now, it’s not always a bad move when agencies and clients break up – it switches things up, keeps ideas fresh. But there are many benefits to cultivating strong and lasting relationships.

The key element of a successful relationship – and project – is to set and meet expectations. That’s it. If you have failed, you haven’t met the client’s expectations, or they haven’t met yours. You broke your promise. In some cases, you might even have failed to set them to begin with – usually this happens out of fear of disappointing the client with expectations that are too high, or just laziness.

“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

Have you heard this old adage? Well, the biggest part of any preparation is to imagine the end goal in order to line up the dominoes. Open and honest dialogue about expectations is the glue that holds everything together.

There are only four possible scenarios (in life too, actually?—?not just managing an agency/client relationship but any relationship).

  1. Expectations set and met – good job all round!
  2. Expectations not set – this will always undermine what you’re trying to achieve
  3. Expectations set low – at least you’ve been honest and realistic, and they can opt out before any time is wasted
  4. Expectations set but failed – and unfortunately, you can only look at yourself, but at least there is accountability!

To me, scenario 2 is the worst of all, as the fingers will be pointed at all parties with no-one accepting accountability and an inability to move forward: “but I’m sure he said” … “didn’t she mention you’d…”

At least in scenario 3 the decision is in the other party’s court to proceed, and scenario 4 you can hold your hand up knowing you are genuinely to blame, apologise and move on – everyone is human! In this way, failing doesn’t have to mean the end of the road.

Clients and agencies are partners. It’s a collaboration. We each bring things to the table.

Are you client-side, reading this and nodding because you believe your incumbent agency’s time is just about up? The thing is, your agency might be doing a really good job. They just aren’t telling you. Maybe they don’t know how.

Or are you agency-side, wondering how to improve your client retention? Clients and agencies are partners. It’s a collaboration. We each bring things to the table. Agencies are always the right people to lead the way forward. Lead by setting expectations – make it part of your process. In e-commerce, it all comes down to people, process and technology. The latter is the easiest, it only requires time; it’s the most important job to put processes in place to allow the people to achieve results.


Photo by Door4. This article first appeared on Medium.

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