in Growing

A new client walks through your door with a big pot of money and no plans for how to spend it. A rare creature indeed.

More likely, the client will share some details about what they see a project creating and the reason for their business needing it.

You might call these initial details sandcastles. The plans may look well-defined and considered, but it’s not ready to be a forever thing. 

They may have been planned without any evidence that it will actually work. It could be lacking input from people with the right experience. It might be too simple or too complex. There are plenty of opportunities to discuss making changes to the plan or even starting again.

First understand

And that’s what an agency will often do. Anyone in the business of creating bespoke solutions for clients should be listening to their new client and only then making recommendations based on the outcomes the client is hoping for.

Note that we’re looking to learn about desired outcomes. Not needs, not details, not specifics, not tech or service or product.

Learn why the project is happening now, who will be rewarded if it’s successful, and what measurement is being used to judge that success.

If you’re in the business of selling products, selling licences or even selling SaaS, none of this matters as your success will be judged differently. But if your projects are quoted and bespoke, read on…

Truly rigid projects

There will be times when a client is so sure of the quality of their planning that you either say ‘yes’ and just build it as they’ve defined, or you say ‘no’ and part ways. This is true fixed-scope, fixed-budget work and can be successful if seen as treated as potentially risky to your agency.

Rigid clients have specific expectations. You’re perceived as a producer to them, not an expert or a partner. Rigid clients can often only be delighted by speed or by price. 

Trying to impress a rigid client by building something innovative (different and better) than what they’re asking for is rarely a project success strategy.

To succeed, you’ll need to get a feel early for whether speed or cost are the priority, and then adapt your approach accordingly.

Refocus on outcomes

Assuming you’re turning rigid work away, the last options for delighting clients is by focusing on outcomes.

Outcome based success is where the real value is. This is about discussing the Why and then being involved in defining the What. In this situation, your agency is being seen as a consultant or a partner. Here your work is more valuable and your relationships are stronger and last longer.

Some agencies do this refocusing on outcomes subconsciously. They’ll have defined a good onboarding and project inception process. It will surface and discuss the desirable outcomes. What it doesn’t always do though is make outcomes the measure of project success. That is critical.

Pointing to the outcomes and getting the client’s agreement that any existing plan may not help us achieve those outcomes is key. Everyone must buy into rebuilding the original sandcastle. 

A new shared goal is required, where success will also be a joint achievement.

Agreeing upfront that we’ll create whatever is required to achieve the outcomes that we’ve defined together.

Win-Win situation

Implementing this approach is a win-win for client and agency.

Agencies wins because they’re in the driving seat on how to achieve the outcomes. They can create wonderful things, enjoy their work and be able to talk publicly at a level above just making things.

Clients win because projects create something with genuine value. Solutions that shift the needle for their business, things they can show to bosses and peers and be proud of.

For both sides, this means a less frictional journey where all opinions are valid and success is a shared vision.

Relationships benefit too. Trust is built and retention is more likely.

I’d love to hear what you think! Send me a message or add a comment with any thoughts.

Related challenges

This article does bring up some challenges and further need for clarification. Below there are several valid questions that are for another article or a deeper discussion:

– But defining outcomes and agreeing that they replace solutions can take time. Do we need a separate paid workshop if budgets are tight?
There are sometimes challenges of sign-off inside the client’s business. Was the budget approved based on specifics instead of outcomes? How do we handle that?
What does this mean for sales strategy?
– How does this thinking impact onboarding?
Where do we tie all this into ongoing support agreements?

Get in touch

If you can relate to these challenges at your agency, I offer a free foundations workshop that helps agencies like yours make fast progress in these areas.

If you’d like to discuss implementing better processes, or the agency delivery approach workshop, get in touch via LinkedIn or this website. If you’re outside Manchester then travel costs apply. It lasts about 3 hours.

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