We asked a few dozen agencies to share their most painful client experiences, and more importantly, the advice they’d give to other agencies to avoid them.
Agencies | Nov 5
Andrew Dymski on August 4, 2017 • 9 minute read
If you said that to me six years ago while I was working away in our dorm room getting our agency off the ground, I would have laughed in your face.
But after working for six years in the agency trenches alongside hundreds of agencies, I now know how naive I was.
The perception is that creativity is the opposite of bureaucracy and red tape. If you truly want to help a company reach their goals, you have to throw off that yoke and run free.
But at the same time, there is a funny discrepancy. If you walk up to any agency owner at INBOUND or Content Marketing World and ask them if documenting agency processes is an important part of growing their business, everyone will give you an enthusiastic “HECK YEAH!”
Process is an agency buzzword. Everyone agrees that processes are important. But when you get right down to it, few agencies have a system in place that they’re proud of.
There are two main reasons why processes fail.
The root cause of both of these failure points is good ol’ human nature, as old as Adam and Eve.
People don’t step away from the business to work on the business because that requires hard work. It’s an uncharted path. When the next client email arrives or your next Slack notification shows up, we’re sucked right back into our normal routine.
You can’t break this cycle unless you’re willing to intentionally guard your calendar and block off time to invest in your business.
As teammates, we don’t take the time to document or follow processes. On the surface, there is nothing in it for us, “I have the process in my head, why do I need write it down?”
Without opening every team members’ eyes to their value to the team, there is no way to break this way of thinking.
Now that we know why most agencies struggle to foster process-driven teams, let’s jump into what you can do about it!
As a core team, it is vital to know what you do and how you do it. The leadership team at your is responsible for the health and happiness of their teams.
But clients sometimes get in the way. They come with a long list of things they want done. Things that you can do, but often not things that you should do.
This pattern ultimately positions your services as a commodity and you as a digital yes-man.
Processes begin in the sales process. You want to work with clients that understand the big picture of the solutions you provide, not just completing work for them. This screening starts in your very first sales calls together.
John McTigue from Kuno Creative says “You need to train your clients how to work with you. If a prospect isn’t willing to allow us to speak to their customers, we take that as a sign that they’re not a good fit.”
Your agency needs to have an established best-practice process. If a prospect is not willing to follow it, then identify and accept that they are not a good fit.
A visualized client journey is a great place to start. Gather your core team together around a whiteboard. Imagine you sign your dream client tomorrow and money was no object. What is the first thing that you would do for them?
As you fill the board, you’ll begin to see the journey unfold right in front of you. Then break the timeline into phases. This will help your prospects, clients, and teammates see how each piece fits together.
If you offer several core services, build the flow for each one.
Once you’ve outlined what needs to happen and when it needs to happen, create a graphic illustrating the journey.
Here’s an example based on my personal experience and the model we teach:
You can use this in the sales process to educate prospects on how you work. You can post this in the office to help teammates remember the big picture as they’re creating deliverables.
(Want to create your own visualized client journey? Check this out.)
After you’ve mapped out the Client Journey, you can start breaking each phase down into smaller pieces. You’re popping the hood to fully analyze and understand the intricacies of the machine that powers each phase of your journey.
Each of these phases can be a Campaign. Each Campaign is made up of Deliverables. Deliverables mark the milestones within the Campaign.
With each Campaign broken down into their Deliverables, it’s time to go one step deeper. Break each Deliverable down into the Tasks that are required to bring that Deliverable from concept to completion.
Each Task should be owned by one teammate.
You now have a framework for process documentation!
By completing these three steps, your internal operations are instantly in the top 10% of agencies. Sad, but true
When you take the time to agree on what you do and how you do it, you keep everyone clearly see who you are. This is a freeing feeling for your team!
But the work isn’t done yet. Rockstar agencies take it to the next level.
Real processes are created by a team. Not in a conference room and then distributed to everyone to follow.
With your agency framework in place, it’s time to bring the entire team around the table. The development of this process depends on your agency size.
A small group is best. Bring together the people who will be working together to create Deliverables. A member of the core team explains the process they need to be broken down.
Once everyone understands how the system flows, it’s time to start creating a checklist for each task. This is where project management meets process management.
Each person who is responsible for a task is in charge of creating the checklist to follow each time the task appears.
The key is to keep things simple. You want to capture the process without hampering the process. In each step, you can link out to more resources or a video walk-through to provide more context.
This step is key to activation. When each member of the team is heard, they’re going to have a greater stake in the success of the initiative. When they’re the ones building the checklists, they’re more likely to follow it.
They say in sales that the fortune is in the follow-up. That is also very true when it comes to your agency process documentation!
When your team follows a documented process, the agency is more profitable.
But agency processes are a lot like highways and bridges. They’re necessary for your team to move, but they need to be maintained.
If you patch cracks as you go, you don’t need to worry about lane closures in the future.
Processes are ever-evolving. When you unlock a new win, that is a chance for a new process or an improved process. When you find a smarter way to do something, that is an opportunity to adjust a process.
Every day, your team is solving problems for clients. Meet regularly to discuss how your processes are working and what improvements can be made.
There are two types of meetings you can add to your agency workflow:
1- Weekly Client Review Stand-Ups
Each week your agency team should be meeting to discuss client work. Instead of creating a whole new meeting on everyone’s calendar, just add a few questions to the meeting agenda:
If anything comes up, add that as a discussion point for later in the meeting.
By regularly checking back to the process with a start, fix, and stop approach, you’ll always be operating at top efficiency.
2- High-Level Process Reviews
Just as the delivery team reviews the step-by-step processes on a regular basis, the core team needs to keep reviewing the overarching framework on a regular basis.
Quarterly strategy sessions are a great time to have these conversations. Start by reviewing the past quarter. Talk about the wins, losses, and lessons learned.
These questions help you keep the framework up to date. With a clear vision from the top, everyone in the agency benefits!
This is the last step because it is the most important.
Agency life is best lived as a team sport. No one lives by themselves on an island.
Team members are on the team for more than just the deliverables they create. They’re there for more than the hours they can bill.
Agency leaders that foster a culture of community are in a stronger long-term position. Your focus shouldn’t only be on attracting great talent. You must retain great talent as well by giving them opportunities to increase responsibility and grow their careers.
Teaching team members about the power of process documentation gives them this perspective.
It’s a tangible way of showing that you value the skills they bring to the team. But more importantly, it shows that you don’t expect that they’re going to be in that role forever.
By documenting the process, they’re freeing themselves to continue to grow within the agency.
When the process is documented in a central place, teammates are empowered to find answers themselves. This means less wasted time and attention spent answering questions.
As the company grows, they have an opportunity to grow, too. Documenting their process is their contribution to the team.
At the end of the day, a profitable agency isn’t just a collection of savvy, creative marketers. It is a team of builders that work together to solve client problems by operating within a framework of documented processes.
This frees them to be savvy, creative marketers that deliver results to clients and love the agency they call home.
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