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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

Oct 1, 2020


What is the ideal skill set, personality, and role for a client relations person? For some, this person is not a value add to the client, and merely manages communication. This can be a slippery slope. For others, there is no one dedicated to the client relationship. A healthy relationship is arguably the most important factor to success. And the skills and systems required to do this at scale are not easy to come by. Finding the right person for the role means not only the right experience, but also the right qualities and personality for the job. Can the person in this role lead with emotional intelligence and provide real value beyond just managing communication? Can they LEAD the client? What are some systems and processes to keep this on track? Finding a mutually beneficial balance and a relationship that is deeply rooted in trust sets you up for a long-term business relationship. This will not only benefit your clients, but also your team. Today we dissect all of this in our businesses.


Top 3  Curtain Pulls in this episode: 

  1. Your Client Success Manager has to be a genuine value add to your organization- not just a traffic cop for communication.
    • They are able to add genuine value to your clients by challenging them and helping them think through challenges and stay on track for success. 
    • Teaching clients leadership skills by example
  2. Your Client Success Manager must be a leader. It’s safe to assume that people don’t come with genuine (or natural) leadership skills. 
  3. Don’t create or allow ongoing toxicity. Part of your client success system should include awareness of how the relationships are impacting your internal team members. Be aware of burnout. Be aware of boundaries. Have guidelines for behavior and follow them and enforce them kindly. And ultimately if a client is hurting your team, you must remove that client. 


For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:


About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[2:41] Bob: “This morning I thought we could talk about client services- when I say client services, maybe client relationships, things like that.. In order to scale properly and grow, you really have to have a strong client services plan in place… and the right people that do nothing but focus on client services.” 

[3:28] Ken: “You can be really good at something but still have a really difficult time making people happy with what you do.” 

[4:20] Bob talks about how having the right people in place to manage those client relationships means you’re also able to continue building relationships within that organization. 

[5:24] Brad: “I think it comes down to being intentional with your business, as far as what exactly are the internal processes to make sure that you do what you can do to make sure your client is successful.” 

[6:33] Ken speaks about what Metacake has put into place and found successful for both the company and their clients. 

  • The person that manages the relationships has to be a genuine value add as far as experience, knowledge, know how, to really gain the trust of the prospect and the client through that process. 
  • Nobody likes to be sold to, so the salesperson role really can’t be just a salesperson, but a success-oriented role. 

[8:20] Bob shares his experience being that person as a single-owner business- there was confusion sometimes from clients when he wasn’t around because he was the one leading that charge to bring them in.

[9:06] Brad: “I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to client relationships and I see the account manager who comes in and sometimes they just don’t have the breadth of experience, so they literally can’t help their clients.” 

[9:44] Ken: “For a lot of personalities, it frustrates them, because it slows them down.” He shares that in traditional larger agencies, there are a lot of those non-value added role that slow down processes. 

[10:45] Brad: “What I’ve found is that they’re always going to seek the people that they know understand… that will for sure get it right… it also depends a lot on the age of the client as well.”

  • Clients with more experience will expect to work with someone that can speak their language, experience-wise. They don’t want someone working with them that they have to drag along, and you also don’t want to wind up as a commodity that isn’t bringing any real value to the brand. 

[12:07] Ken talks about the importance of leadership skills when it comes to working with clients. Not only having industry experience, but also experience leading things in general. This should be a prerequisite, being able to lead and having the experience and knowledge to do so. 

  • Everyone that works with the client and leads them in any way also has their hands on the project in some way. This has helped to prevent having one single person who does all the communicating.

[14:15] Bob asks: “Do you think you could find someone who doesn’t have the age and experience but still can be a really good client manager and can lead?” Short answer: Absolutely!

[15:00] Brad speaks about people who work inside of your team- if they have a deep-rooted interest in the business and how it functions, they can be a great candidate for client management. 

  • Sometimes your client will make you very very upset, and you have to have restraint, so it takes the right personality to deal with stress in a healthy way and also lead effectively.

[15:38] Ken shares about finding the balance between being in relationship with your client while also detaching enough that you can maintain healthy boundaries and lead effectively.

[16:19] Brad shares one of the core goals and values in his company, that they want to make every client feel like a superstar. 

  • Being friendly can be okay in some ways, “but I think you also have to make sure to know that this is a business relationship, and if they’re not happy with your services they’re going to go someplace else.” 
  • When your client always feels like they’re being served, when objectives are being met and goals are being reached, there is more forgiveness when you make a mistake. 

[17:43] Ken asks “Are there boundaries that you draw in your own mind… so that you don’t get too emotionally invested?”
[18:07] Bob responds that boundaries will be different for different personality types, and different clients will also impact the way you speak with them. 

[20:05] Ken talks about how drawing those boundaries and keeping them up can be difficult, and client relationships “rarely continue forever.” Some client losses can feel like a really bad breakup!

  • There’s a human side of business and a practical side, and you have to find a way to balance those and keep them in balance.

[21:00] Brad talks about Anthem writing boundaries into contracts, and using them to bring that awareness back around if things get difficult. “In the end we try not to put too many roadblocks up…”

[22:35] Brad continues, talking about how just going above and beyond with projects isn’t enough to build that trust and enter into the ideal client relationship, where you can help them by bringing ideas and strategies “to get over a hurdle,” THAT is where the real service is. 

  • Reading between the lines of their words and hearing their frustrations, then providing solutions or alternatives for those frustrations is the sweet spot of client service and building client relationships. 
  • If you can get someone in your Client Services role that can do that, that is attuned to that sort of conversation- you’re set up for success. 

[24:50] Ken talks about Metacake’s push to launch more coaching type of engagements with clients. “You’re more helping them overcome challenges and problems, and helping them make decisions for themselves, giving feedback, your experience, that kind of thing.” 

  • Often that coaching will include bringing awareness to opposing goals clients may have, or goals that pull in opposite directions. Having the strategic eye on these things takes a certain personality type.
  • Breaking down OKR’s (Objectives and Key Results) forces you to have a really clear image of the objectives, then ties in the metrics and measurements for reaching that objective. 

[27:57] Brad talks about working with clients who are not natural leaders, and being aware of that when developing a relationship with your client is very important. 

[28:37] Bob asks The Guys for some practical tips for managing clients, and gives one example that he lives by. “Stop using words like ‘You guys should do this… you should. Why don’t we try this, Why don’t we try that,’” Get into the habit of saying “we” instead of “you” so that your client feels more like a partner and remembers that you’re on the same team. 

[30:16] Brad agrees with Bob, and stresses the importance of making sure you’re still in the drivers seat and leading them effectively. 

  • In emails with clients, he uses “Hey Team” to reinforce the team feeling
  • Oftentimes, the lead on your end will become somewhat disenfranchised with the client, leading to feelings of frustration and impediments in communication. 

[31:53] Bob: “The reality is that you’re either the savior or the scapegoat. Sometimes you’re both, depending on the day… How do you navigate that?”

[32:26] Brad suggests having a couple of different personality types in the client communication, so that there is someone there who is more operations driven and is keeping everyone on track. So the other team member is freed up to manage the relationship more effectively. 

[33:40] Ken talks about team makeup, what he calls positive tension between personality types. “If everyone just serves the client, no matter what, you’re going to go out of business.

  • Metacake has a project strategist who is the client hero, the client proponent and goals advocate. Then there is an operations project manager, who is in charge of keeping the client relationship really strong and whose primary worries don’t include budget and/or timeline.
  • When the team discusses a specific issue or email from the client, there are two opposite pulls as those two roles discuss options. That creates a positive tension that yields great results!
  • Tip 2: Everyone on the team that speaks to clients should be adding value, and be able to state what that value is from Metacake’s perspective. 

[36:31] Bob brings the conversation back around to the current state of the world. With the typical “wining and dining” clients to win their contracts GONE, what is the equivalent of that today?

[37:05] Ken talks about his experience at a dinner with a very wealthy prospective client. He handed over his business card and the prospect immediately assumed their rates were high because of the feeling and look of the business card. So even in that experience, the situation was misleading and started things off on a non-value added note. 

[39:56] Bob talks about how in some situations it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring up likes/dislikes of the clients. But if you’re going to invest in and do work for this client, do some research about them, what they like and are interested in. And keep those details in the back of your mind so that if an opportunity to strengthen that relationship comes up later on, you can act on it. 

[40:35] Ken says that the goal is to create genuine interest and show that you really care, and do that in as many ways as you feel is appropriate. But “the intention and the discipline behind this is easy not to do.” 

[41:15] Bob “I think that’s a good emotional intelligence piece” and working on knowing how to bring about those connections is a skill that takes time and intention to hone. 

[42:05] Brad talks about hitting a sweet spot with a client in the relationship, when they start to pour back into you and lift you up to other prospective clients. 

[43:02] Bob asks for some other tips from The Guys, any processes they have in place to evaluate the client relationships at the 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year mark. 

[43:50] Ken speaks sending out questionnaires and incentivizing them with Amazon gift cards, etc. Often that doesn’t work and so Metacake has the client in and films them answering a series of questions about the brand and working with Metacake as a client. This is content creation at its best! 

  • Asking the clients questions about how they’ve increased their brand awareness and achieved their goals with Metacake is powerful, and can be very inspiring to other brands and businesses who are looking to do the same thing.

[45:00] Bob talks about his company having open house type Christmas parties where client can briefly stop by and hang out. Sending gifts of food during the Holidays is great, but also think about New Years gifts, or Christmas in July. 

[48:35] Ken, when talking about whether to include a client feature in your newsletter or something similar. “If we’re going to talk about a client, it’s gotta be giving them benefit and highlighting them. Here’s what they’re doing, it’s really great, they’ve got a great product, oh by the way we work with them and it was fun.” 

[50:45] Brad mentions the difficulty of managing the relationship between the client and the person working directly with them. Having the emotional intelligence to know whether the role should be changed, or the management should be tweaked in some way. 

[51:50] Ken talks about Metacake having Daily Stand Up meetings where those issues can be discussed with the team and have more objective input. This helps to combat that communication fatigue that can come with burnout, etc. 

  • You have to assume that people aren’t great leaders, you have to assume that there is coaching and teaching involved in the client management process. 

[53:30] Brad talks about past experiences of having client managers who leave every meeting in tears- measure personality types, measure emotional health at the given moment and swap people out as necessary! 

[54:32] Ken says that at Metacake they’ve worked with “wolves” on the client side who are bullies and really have a negative impact on team health. It’s your job as the owner to step into that and make the tough decisions, have the tough conversations. 

[55:31] Bob wraps up this episode, saying that in order to grow and scale you HAVE to invest in the client management/ client relationship side of things effectively.