Relationships do not all last forever. There comes a time when even the best break apart. Think The Beatles, Martin & Lewis, Simon & Garfunkel, Gumby & Pokey (RIP Art Clokey). So where’s all this going?
In my quest to find new employment I have met with several agencies in the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Some big, some small, some in between. Through the years, I’ve worked on both sides of the agency/client relationship and, therefore, feel eminently qualified to comment on a part of the relationship I’ve not heard discussed before: the part where one tells the other it’s over. Most often this happens when the client calls the agency and tells them their services are no longer needed, but agencies can, and should, fire clients when appropriate. It may sound counterintuitive – and it is to almost anyone who gets a piece of the revenue generated by their clients – but when done properly telling a client you can no longer offer your services to them will be good for all parties involved.
Several years ago I hired an agency to do project work. It was, and I trust still is, bright, creative and dynamic agency that was doing tremendous work with several companies in the Twin Cities. I hired them to help SoftBrands break free from the ERP clutter. I wanted new and creative ideas that would differentiate us from the competition. The agency did not disappoint. The ideas were fresh, the staff responsive and the work was always ahead of schedule until…
The agency was on a growth trajectory when I first engaged them. Unfortunately for me, they were growing faster than the revenue I was supplying. Where SoftBrands had once been a big part of their business, the percentage has slipped dramatically and along with it went the responsiveness and ability to hit deadlines. In the end, with a bad taste in my mouth from the way the account was handled, I called the account executive and told him we were moving our business elsewhere. At the time I found it strange that he seemed relieved by the call, but after reflecting on it I’m sure he was.
He had moved on to bigger clients that provided bigger commissions. Who could blame him for not wanting to continue managing an account that could provide little revenue to him or the agency. But how much better would it have been if he had called me and told me he was unable to continue managing the account? How would it have ended if he had told me we weren’t growing at a rate that matched the agency and that he had 3 or 4 agencies he could recommend that specialized in smaller project work.
Simply put: If he had fired me – rather than the other way around – we might very well have parted on better terms: no bad taste and no sighs of relief. Instead, I think about the lousy customer service they offer to their small customers and how happy the AE was to be rid of SoftBrands as a client.
We may both end up living happily ever after, but somewhere a bridge is burning.