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Chip Griffin is the founder of the Small Agency Growth Alliance (SAGA) where he helps PR & marketing agencies grow and thrive. He brings more than two decades of experience as an agency executive and entrepreneur. He shares the wisdom of his success and lessons of his failures. Follow him on Twitter at @ChipGriffin.

 

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Follow her on Twitter at @GiniDietrich.

Recent Episodes

What value do clients believe your agency provides?

Do you know what your clients really value from their relationship with your agency? Often we know that we are creating real value for a client, but it isn’t always aligned with the value that they see.

For example, clients may be looking to get something off of their own plates or relieving some logistical headache more than the actual results you produce.

In other cases, they may be looking for external validation or a fresh set of eyes.

The more you understand about why a prospect decides to say “yes” to your agency, the better you can tailor the work (and reporting) that you provide to match.

Remember that it is important to be both effective (in our expert opinion) but also deliver the results (or pain relief) that our clients are seeking.

Key takeaways

Chip Griffin: “Ultimately the client is always right. I mean, at least in their own minds. And in the terms of the agency client relationship, they are right. They may not be correct, but they are right. They control the relationship and can walk away whenever they want.”

Gini Dietrich: “Know your value, show your value, align your value.”

Chip Griffin: “You need to draw a very clear line from what you’re doing to the result that it’s creating. If you can do it quantitatively with third party data, fantastic. If you can’t, do the best you can, because otherwise you are going to be the first to go when they’re looking for budget cuts.”

Gini Dietrich: “So: listen, ask questions, take some good notes, figure out what the pain is. Don’t let them get away with the first answer, try to dig deeper and deeper three to five levels deeper. And when you do that, you can start to demonstrate the value that you provide.”

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And we wanna know what value do you think you’re getting from this podcast? Right after this.

I don’t know about you, Gini, but I think we provide tons of value in this podcast every week.

Gini Dietrich: I would say it depends. Some weeks, probably so and some weeks…

Chip Griffin: all right. Can we agree we provide at least a little value with this podcast?

Gini Dietrich: Yeah, I can. I would agree with that. Right.

Chip Griffin: We, we can agree on that, but, but is what we think the value is the same as what the listeners think the value is.

Gini Dietrich: Not necessarily.

Chip Griffin: Not necessarily. And that’s what we’re gonna be talking about today.

Because agencies have the same problem when they’re thinking about their clients. And this is sort of a follow on to our recent conversation about the possibility of a recession. And if there’s a recession, companies will be pinching pennies and trying to figure out where to cut their budgets. And in fact, there’s already some survey research I’ve seen this week that suggests businesses are already starting to cut back just, just in case something happens.

Gini Dietrich: Yup. We’re seeing that already.

Chip Griffin: So if, if you’re gonna be in that place, then, then you need to understand not the value that you think you provide or even know you provide, you need to understand what the client thinks you’re providing and make sure that you’re speaking to that value and emphasizing that value.

If you want to make sure that you’re kept around even in the tough times.

Gini Dietrich: Yeah. It’s really interesting because. As you mentioned, some companies are already starting to cut back and we’re starting to have conversations like that with our clients. And I had a conversation yesterday with a client where we have gained massive momentum.

Like we’re at the point now with, with them. And we’re probably almost about two years in, but we’re at the point with them now that it’s almost happening whether or not we’re out there doing anything like we’ve built enough content that the search is working really well. And we’ve built enough relationships that we are, we are used as sources without us having to pitch.

And like all of the stuff in the PESO model is working really well and integrated, and it’s sort of a well-oiled machine. And the conversation I had yesterday was, well, we’re not really sure we’re gonna continue to invest in media relations and content. We’ll probably keep paid social and search. And maybe some email marketing, but we think we’re gonna cut back on everything else.

And I was like, that is like the dumbest mistake you could make. But what it made me realize is as I started to, to stand up for why, why I thought they should keep it, it made me realize that they don’t see the real value in it. And the reason they don’t see the real value in it is because that other stuff that they wanna keep you can track directly to revenue.

And the stuff that they’re thinking about not keeping is the stuff that’s brand awareness on top of a funnel and not, not necessarily and search engine optimization that you can’t directly correlate. So for agencies that do that work. We’re in a really tough spot in times like this, because you sort of know if it’s working anecdotally and intuitively, but you can’t point to, we create, we had this much, we created this much revenue or we developed this many new customers or like you can with paid social and paid search.

Chip Griffin: Right? And, and I think it’s a, it’s a huge issue that, that agencies have have either not done a good job or because of the work that you do it’s very difficult to do a good job clearly articulating that value on a regular basis in the reports that you provide.

So you need to find ways way before anything tough happens. You know, be able to agree with the client on how you’re going to evaluate the success and make sure that you’re consistently reporting it. So that’s, that’s a piece of it now that doesn’t still save you necessarily in tough times. Right. But a lot of times, you know, we, we overlook that because we get so into the mix of just getting stuff done and, you know, and producing reports, maybe that are easy, but not necessarily the ones that are the, the most impactful at showing the work that we’re doing and the results that it’s having. And so, you know, that’s something we need to be thinking about from day one with a client and we need to continue to update and adapt it depending on how our work is adapting with the client, depending on how their needs are changing as well.

Gini Dietrich: It’s funny you say that because we have a client who always says activities do not equal results. Activities do not equal results. And that’s to, to your point, if you can’t figure out and, and spend the time to report on the right kinds of things that they, that actually shows that the activity you are doing is transition or translating to results, then that’s where you start to get into trouble.

And like I said, it’s not super easy. Like it’s a, you know, I mean, if you’re doing. if you’re doing search engine optimization, if you’re doing search engine marketing, if you’re doing conversion rate optimization, that kind of stuff you, it is, you can directly correlate that. But the rest of us have to work a little bit harder to show is, you know, and maybe it’s, you’re increasing marketing qualified leads, or you are increasing sales qualified leads, or you are touching first, middle, and last touch attribution.

There are lots of ways that you can do it, but you have to be doing that really hard work that. You know, for lots of us is not really intuitive because it requires our left brain and most of us are right brain. Um, but that’s the really hard work that you have to be doing to, to demonstrate the value because when it comes to having to look at the P and L and say, okay, where can we cut costs?

It makes it a really easy decision when they haven’t really seen the value they perceive, which is money, cold hard cash because you haven’t demonstrated it that way.

Chip Griffin: Well, I, I think it’s important that you use the word perceived there because there is a difference between in some cases the actual value you’re providing and the perceived value.

Yes. And it, it, isn’t always what we think it is. And part of the problem is that when agencies are first getting hired, they’re going through the, the prospect stage. They’re not often doing the work they need to do or should be doing to dig in and understand why are they being hired in the first place?

And, and that’s because often you just take at face value, the initial inquiry that you receive from that client. And so they say, Hey, I want a website or, Hey, I want to do, you know, some press releases or whatever, and you just sort of accept it because you know, you’re looking for the, the path of least resistance to new revenue.

And so you just, you don’t question it, you don’t push back. You don’t really try to understand it. But the more you understand why you were hired in the first place, and usually it is not for the specific reason that’s articulated to you. Usually it’s because they had some meeting where the CEO got pissed off about something and said, you need to solve this.

And so they went and hired an agency to do it, or they had another agency that was ticking them off for some reason or not producing what they thought were the right results. And so they went and looked for an alternative. There’s something going on that caused them to say, this is the day we’re gonna reach out.

And we’re gonna talk to you Acme agency to figure out how we can work with you. It, and you gotta understand what that driving force is. Because a lot of your work going forward is still gonna tie back to that. And if it’s that they’re just trying to get stuff off their plate, or they’re just trying to appease a CEO or they’ve got a revenue problem, whatever it is, you need to understand that because that’s what you’re actually driving towards.

Not necessarily what you know is the real value you can create.

Gini Dietrich: Absolutely.

And I will add to that, that the reason that clients hire agencies is because agencies are an expert in what they do. So if they’re hiring a web development firm –

Chip Griffin: Perceived to be an expert.

Gini Dietrich: Fair. If they’re hiring, they’ve interviewed three web development firms and they’ve narrowed it down to one, they’ve hired that it’s because they perceive that you’re the best out of everybody they’ve talked to. If they’re hiring a concept marketing firm, they have read the stuff that you produced, that you’ve seen some of the results that you have for clients. And they perceive that you’re the best in that in, in your field. And so because of that, they have some expectations.

They expect that you’re going to, to come in and hit the ground running fast, that you’re not gonna have a bunch of ramp up time trying to understand their business or the industry, and that you can get some results really quickly. They’re also expecting and they will not necessarily articulate this, but they are expecting that you will say, well, wait a second. I understand that you’re asking me to do X, but what I think you really need to do is Y, and they may not articulate to you that they are expecting you to be world class and, and an expert in what they’re asking you to do. But part of being that is being able to exactly what you said, say, dig in and go, wait a sec.

This isn’t what you really need. What you really need, and you may have to give them some difficult recommendations. You may have to push back. You may have to be assertive. You may have to do some things that are uncomfortable for you, but that’s what they’re expecting. They’re not expecting order takers.

They’re not expecting like they can hire employees to do that. What they’re ex when they hire an agency, they’re expecting you to be the expert and they expect that you should run their account in that way.

Chip Griffin: I guess I would say I think that there are clients that are certainly that way. I think there are others that say that, but don’t necessarily mean it. You know, they will say to you, you know, we, you know, you need to give us your, your candid opinion and then you give them the candid opinion and they tell you to do something different anyway. And, and so, so you have to decide, you know, and, and we’ve talked about this on the show before you have to decide, you know, what you’re willing to do.

And, and are you willing to do things that you don’t necessarily think are the best idea, you know, where do you draw that line? But you need to understand that because yes, they, they want you to push back and, and give you idea, give your own ideas and, and expertise, but they also just want to get stuff done.

And sometimes they just, you know, they wanna put up this landing page or they wanna send out this press release and, you know, you may tell ’em, it’s not the best way to do it, or the best timing or whatever. And they’re like, yeah, we don’t care. And, and so you need to figure out where do you, you know, where do you draw the line on, on that kind of thing?

Because ultimately the client is always right. I mean, at least in their own minds. Yeah. And in the terms of the agency client relationship, they are right. They may not be correct, but, but they are right. They it’s, you know, they control the, the relationship and can walk away whenever they want. So you need to understand those kinds of things too.

And, and your goal is to figure out how you bridge the gap between what you know is right and what will work and what, you know, it’s clear that they want. And the more you can bridge that gap, the more effective you will be. And the stickier your relationship will be in these tough times.

Gini Dietrich: So you mean when somebody tells me they wanna send a news release out about their new hire and I tell them no, I should probably be a little more flexible.

Chip Griffin: Well, you just need to decide is that the hill you wanna die on?

Gini Dietrich: It is sometimes. Yes. Yeah.

And, and, and, and that’s fine. I mean, and, and, and you and I are at points in our careers where we figured out, you know, that’s a hill that that’s, you know, worth dying on or not in this particular case.

Chip Griffin: And it probably is client dependent. Right. There are some clients you’re probably willing to die on that hill and there are others. You’re like, sure I’ll send it out, whatever.

Gini Dietrich: Right. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and so you need to, to understand and, and accept that and be okay with it. But again, it comes down to the perceived value that the client has because in, in some cases it may be that for whatever reason for maybe it’s internal politics, right. You know, maybe, maybe the CEO is really, you know, jazzed up about this hire and just wants to see some activity, right? Going back to your point, activity is not results, but sometimes activity is important too. And, and particularly in these tougher times, it can be important to be able to, to show that you are being arms and legs and doing things.

And I know, you know, we’ve beaten to a pulp, the whole idea that you have to be strategists, you know, versus order takers versus arms and legs and all that. At the end of the day, particularly in tough times, strategy is table stakes, but it’s not how you should be spending most of your time. Yeah, that’s right.

Most of your time, if, if they’re looking at, at cutting budgets strategy is the first thing to go because you can’t, can’t quantify it in any way, shape or form, arms and legs that sticks around longer. So give ’em the strategy. Sure. But don’t lean into that now, lean into getting stuff done.

Gini Dietrich: You know, that’s a really good point because we’ve talked about this too, just from our own perspective of hiring contractors, because we can scale them up and down as business goes up and down. And the same goes for agencies. If you’re in there and actually doing the work, you know, there it’s gonna be a lot harder for them to, they are gonna have to take a hot, long, hard look at it and go gosh, if we let them go, we’re gonna have to do, we’re gonna have to, you know, absorb this, this and this.

Can we afford to do that? And so that I, that’s a really good point as well. I just think you have, you have to be –

Chip Griffin: You can go 12 months without strategy, right? I mean, it’s, it’s gonna hurt your business for sure. But it’s not, it’s not obvious and immediately apparent. If you go 12 months without updating your website or putting out a press release or sending out an email campaign, those things are really obvious.

Yep. Right. So your social media, which one is gonna disappear first? Yeah.

Gini Dietrich: Right, right. And, and at the same time, I do think there is, I mean there, yes, you’re you’re right. That you need to push back when you know that they’re when they’re doing something that you don’t think is right, or that you don’t think should be done, but you, you do have to weigh you know, is this something that I can be okay with? Is there a middle ground that we can reach or, but, you know, really look at it from a results perspective too, and say, is this something that we can measure? And if we can, great. And if not, then maybe we go back to the client and say, listen, we, we don’t think we should do this and here’s why. And also it’s gonna be really hard to measure. And usually at that point they go, oh, okay. Or they just really need to get it done because the board told them to and they, we, and then we get it done.

Chip Griffin: Right. Well, and, and a lot of this goes back to the original premise of the episode, which is knowing how they’re perceiving value. If you understand what they’re really looking for, you can figure out how to implement your strategy and your tactics to get to the same place you want to go. But in a way that helps them understand that it’s actually achieving that goal. So if their goal is to reduce the workload on them, you know, you can talk through how some of your approaches can do that, so that their internal team isn’t overburdened with approvals or producing information for you or all these different kinds of things, or that it can be used to leverage a communication with the CEO or with the board or with stakeholders or whatever.

So. But it, you can’t do that effectively, if you don’t understand the why of the relationship. And I, and I think to me, that’s just the, the key thing I would drive home and it’s useful in all times, but particularly in tough economic times.

Gini Dietrich: So let’s talk about when you’re, let’s talk about in a new business meeting, getting to the why, and then let’s talk about with clients that are already existing, that already exist getting to the why. Because that will change every, we have one client that every time they have a board meeting, the why changes and I’m like, okay, let’s hear it. Here we go.

Chip Griffin: Yeah. I mean, it’s, it’s easiest in the prospect stage and it’s, but it’s also time where, where most often it just doesn’t happen because oftentimes the prospect calls up the agency and says, you know, we want to, to start doing, you know, more social media. And so you jump in and you start talking about how, you know, all these great things that you can do with social media.

And you’ve got all these ideas and, and we’ve done this great stuff for other clients. And, and so we just jump right into that and it, it goes to a point that we make repeatedly here, which is you need to shut up and listen. Right. And, and more to the point, you need to ask questions and you need to keep asking why until you actually get to the root of it.

And so for me, in whatever business that I’ve ever run, I always try to, in that first conversation with a prospect, understand why we’re talking today. In other words, why, why did we actually set up this appointment today? And that’s where you can start getting to, and they usually start with, well, because we need a new website.

Okay, but why. You know, right. Talk me through the, the journey that you’ve gone through to get here. And the more that you can get them talking, they will typically start sharing. Well, we had a meeting two weeks ago and we talked about this or we had our quarterly planning session and this is one of the quarterly goals or whatever.

And the more that you get them talking about those internal machinations that got them to actually set up the call and take time out of their calendar to meet with you. The more you will understand their true motivations, at least in the moment. Now you still have to continue to update that over time, because it may adapt six months in, 12 months in depending upon how their business is going and how the relationship is going and all that.

But, but always ask questions, shut up and listen, you will learn so much if you just shut the lips.

Gini Dietrich: That’s exactly right. It’s so funny you say that, because just yesterday we were, uh, a colleague of mine and I were talking to a client and we just shut up. Like we, we, we did the traditional journalist trick where we, we met, we met him with silence and he just kept filling the silence. And it was amazing because we got so much information. In fact, my colleague, uh, texted me and was like, man, he really doesn’t like silence. I’m like, I know this is great. But you get so much and that’s such a great trick. Journalists do that too.

Because they’re trying to get as much information out of you and maybe they don’t know the right questions to ask, but knowing that if you’re a person who will fill the silence that you, they will get to the information that they need. So, and most people are that way. Most people don’t like – most people will fill the silence.

So even if you don’t have the right question for, for, you know, when they stop talking, just take, you know, take some notes and just let it let there would be some silence for a few seconds. And I guarantee they’re gonna keep talking.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and I think to me, the trick is you, you haven’t really listened enough if you actually believe the first reason they gave you.

Gini Dietrich: That’s fair.

Chip Griffin: Right? I mean, because the, almost none of us will go into a conversation with someone that we’re going to pay money to simply because of the, the most obvious reason. Like, so, I mean, I go to a dentist and, you know, and I’m there because I need a root canal. Well, why am I going to get the root canal?

Well, it’s not because I want a root canal. Okay. I can assure you.

Gini Dietrich: No, unless you’re a masochist.

Chip Griffin: Right. And, and, and, you know, it’s not even that it’s because the tooth is infected it’s because of the pain the infected tooth is causing. Yes. And I couldn’t stand it any longer, so now I’m gonna deal with it because I have no other alternative.

Right. And, and so when you understand that, you start to realize, okay, well, what I’m trying to do is just get rid of that pain. And every client, every prospect who comes to you has some kind of pain that you will be relieving. It may be the pain of not enough revenue, of not enough leads, of a barking boss, whatever it is, it’s something.

And your job is to kill that pain first and foremost.

Gini Dietrich: So: listen, ask questions, take some good notes, figure out what the pain is. Don’t let them get away with the first answer, try to dig deeper and deeper three to five levels deeper. And when you do that, you can start to demonstrate the value that you provide.

And you both will be aligned on that value because you’re helping to solve the pain.

Chip Griffin: And you’ve gotta repeatedly demonstrate that value to the client over and over again. They need to know what you’re doing. They need to know what the results are that it’s creating. You cannot assume that they know or that they realize.

You need to draw a very clear line from what you’re doing to the result that it’s creating. If you can do it quantitatively with third party data, fantastic. If you can’t, do the best you can, because otherwise you are going to be the first to go when they’re looking for budget cuts.

Gini Dietrich: Yep. Every. Every time, every single time.

Chip Griffin: And it’s a lot easier to let an agency go than an employee go. So you have a much higher bar to clear, even though you are technically the expert.

Gini Dietrich: Yes, you do. Super easy.

Chip Griffin: So know your value, show your value, keep your gig. It’s all good.

Gini Dietrich: That’s so easy. Boom, boom, boom. Done.

Chip Griffin: Isn’t it? You know, I mean, we always say there’s no simple formula for agency success.

Here we go. We just found it.

Gini Dietrich: well, now you’ve got your social media ads.

Chip Griffin: There we go. I got my social media ads.

Gini Dietrich: In just three short weeks you too –

Chip Griffin: three short weeks. You too can be a millionaire expert without working more than 60 seconds a week.

Gini Dietrich: Know your value, show your value, align your value.

Chip Griffin: There you go.

Gini Dietrich: Done.

Chip Griffin: Well. Hopefully we provided you some value, whether it’s the value we think we created, or some other value, maybe you just, you know, got a little entertainment out of the last 20 minutes or so. But it will bring to an end, this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, I’m Chip Griffin.

Gini Dietrich: And I’m Gini Dietrich.

Chip Griffin: And it depends.

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