The worst question a client could ask

The Brand Agency head of interactive strategy Matt Popkes
By The Brand Agency head of interactive strategy Matt Popkes | 11 March 2019
Matt Popkes

“Why do you need that?”

Five seemingly innocuous words, forming an all-too-frequent question that clients pose to their agencies. Depending on the context of course, this can be a fair question as agencies can often make confusing requests in pursuit of outlandish ideas. However, this question is often the client response to a critical request from an agency; a request for data.

Whether it be key financials, customer data and databases, digital channel analytics, or overall business growth figures, forward-thinking agencies are more and more often requesting insight around or direct access to this client-held data. Reason being, in theory, is that we are working towards more thorough research practices, a complete picture of the client challenges we’re trying to solve, more informed creative approaches and the ability to set and hit business-driven KPIs.

For better or worse, an agency is entirely dependent on a client’s willingness or ability to share this data, where a refusal to do so can put the agency at a significant disadvantage when it comes to demonstrating any meaningful impact on their client’s business as a result of the agency’s work. “Why do you need that” as a response to a request for key business data speaks to a fundamental relationship and alignment issue between agency and client, which until solved can hold both parties down like an anchor.

One reason for client skepticism when, perhaps out of the blue, an agency asks for business financial data, is that the agency has yet to demonstrate credibility and competency with such data. Questioning why the data is needed is valid because the agency has never proven to the client that they’d know what to do with it, nor is it well understood by the client that sharing this data will improve their marketing.

Often times, the type of client data an agency would need for effective research or reporting is confidential, and clients are understandably reluctant to freely hand it over. That reluctance is especially high if the agency is viewed by the client as just another vendor among a list of vendors, rather than a strategic partner with mutual interests.

From the client’s POV, why should we share our data with our marketing agency when they’re simply in the business of campaign ideas, producing assets and buying media? Sensitive data is better reserved for the big strategic consultancies, who are tackling our larger business challenges.

Agencies can address this "being painted into a corner" by proactively demonstrating how access to key business metrics can add tremendous value to the insights, creativity, tracking, reporting and overall depth of the relationship between agency and client. Present concepts and tactics through a lens of the true impact they can have on the business, as measured through financial or other business-specific KPIs, rather than generic marketing KPIs.

Demonstrate competence. Identify information gaps holding the performance of marketing back. Earn trust through demonstration. The info you need will follow.

Agency/client relationships based in trust and strategic partnership, where key information flows freely, requires the agency to genuinely focus all efforts, across all disciplines on driving meaningful results for clients. While a seemingly intuitive agency purpose, this traditionally takes a backseat to an agency’s pursuit of building its own profile, portfolio and trophy case. It can mean a shift in mindset from the pursuit of industry awards to the pursuit of client results. Once that client-serving belief is truly held within the culture of the agency, the client will never need to ask “why do you need that?”.

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