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.
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John Bonini on January 2, 2018 • 4 minute read
Karl Sakas knew he could help agency owners. He’d seen (and heard) their challenges over and over again.
What it came down to was this–agency owners typically start an agency because they love the work, i.e. design, development, PR, strategy, etc., but then get in over their heads with the day-to-day tasks of actually running an agency.
Hiring. Firing. Buying computer paper. Negotiating with vendors. Sales. They find themselves further from the work that inspired them to start an agency to begin with.
They become unhappy. As a result, so do their clients, and eventually, so does the team.
In 2013, Sakas asked his boss to cut him to part-time so he could build a business to solve these challenges.
Sakas & Company is now his full-time gig, and Karl has worked with hundreds of agencies across 30 countries on solving for this.
We recently sat down to talk about the challenges agencies are facing, and how they can work through them.
Below are two of my favorite soundbites from this episode.
“A lot of agency owners started their agency because they loved the work. Maybe it was design, or development, or PR, strategy, or writing–but then find themselves in over their head doing things they don’t enjoy.
You’re not doing design and writing anymore–you’re hiring/firing people, you’re doing client service, sales, you’re negotiating with vendors, buying printer paper (or making sure that someone is.)
I realized there was an opportunity to take my experience to help make life easier for people running agencies and also make working at an agency for their employees less of a rollercoaster.
I put that together in 2013. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial bug, so I went to my then boss and proposed that I work part-time for her to give me time to launch the business. She said yes, and I worked for a few more months, and then built up the practice and went full time from there.
Since then, we’ve helped several hundred agencies in 30 countries.”
“A story I share in the book that helps illustrate the account management function …
I went to a restaurant. I had a team celebration dinner for a non-profit I’m involved with. We had hit some goals so we took the team out to celebrate.
We had two servers taking care of the table. Later on in the evening, I noticed one of the restaurant employees walking around to talk with different tables asking how everything was. She came to our table and we had an extra seat, so we asked her to sit down. Her name was Nancy.
One of our team members, who’s a bit cantankerous, really wanted an ice cream sundae even though the house specialty was chocolate chip pie. We said, “you should just get the pie because that’s their specialty.” He wanted the sundae.
Nancy said, “hold on just a moment” and left.
About 10 minutes later she came back with a custom dessert–a slice of chocolate chip pie inside an ice cream sundae. He was delighted.
We probably got charged for two desserts, but it’s an example of what I call “warmth and competence.” The idea is that if people are looking for those opportunities to do something a little special, you leave people delighted as customers or clients.
Nancy had time to walk around the room and look for those opportunities. Surely she didn’t go over to our table expecting to come up with a custom dessert.
Our servers didn’t have time for that. If we’re thinking of servers as subject matter experts or project managers, their job is to fulfill the orders that are already there, maybe do a bit of upselling here or there, but they certainly can’t sit down and chat. And even if they went to the kitchen and asked for a custom dessert, they probably wouldn’t have the authority to get the kitchen staff to do that.
Ultimately, account management is about looking for those opportunities to make clients thrilled about working with you and finding ways to use that to grow the relationship.”
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