client relationships

The secrets to building happy client relationships

June 2023

Clients. They keep us busy, they keep us going, they are our entire raison d’etre. A good client relationship is truly a thing of beauty, and long-term, productive partnerships are the holy grail for any agency. But successful client relationships do not happen all by themselves. Lucas Onofre, partner at elespacio, spends much of his time working with clients and supporting the agency’s client service teams. Here he shares some of the secrets to keeping everyone happy and everything ticking along.    

Making plans and setting goals

“We try to find out what the client really wants, which isn’t always what they say they want”

The key to building a great client relationship is a proactive approach. You have to care deeply about the client and go beyond what they ask you to do. When we get a request, we don’t just “do it” straight away. First we try to find out exactly what the client is trying to achieve, which isn’t always the same as what they initially ask for.

We start with a planning and goal-setting phase, find the right people for the job and work out the best way to go about it. And only then can we deliver something that makes sense for them. We try to join the dots, using insights and research to make our services better. And talking of research…

The deeper the dive, the better

“Each project is unique. We don’t implement things that have worked in the past”

We usually start with a discovery project. We do lots of stakeholder interviews, workshops and product and consumer research. We deep dive into the client’s brand, business and customers, gathering insights into the pain points and opportunities. We learn everything we possibly can about them before we come up with recommendations that will solve our client’s unique problems. We never just implement things that have worked in the past. We do the research to find out what will work for each specific client and each specific problem.

The right team for the job

“A huge account management team might look good, but it doesn’t necessarily add value”

When it comes to building a team, a good guiding principle is to avoid unnecessary layers of services. Large advertising agencies will often put a huge account management team on the project, for example, and while it might look good to clients, it doesn’t always add much value or have much impact on the day-to-day workings.

Instead, we have a dedicated team of experts, working each on their own area, with a strong sense of ownership and accountability. They can make decisions and work with people in other areas, connect the dots, understand the bigger picture and achieve the best outcome for our clients.

And then we have the producers, the multi-taskers responsible for leading the daily charge. They wear many hats – account executive, project manager, business negotiator, design director, technical expert. They don’t actually perform all of those roles, of course, but they have enough understanding of each area for them to lead informed conversations with our clients and solve any problems our teams encounter so we can move projects forward.

Flat-fee vs rate-cards

“Clients don’t hire people. They hire the efforts of a combined team”

We are unusual in that we have a flat-fee or blended hourly rate instead of a separate rate card for each role. There are two reasons for this. First is quality. We have the same rate card for each role because we commit to delivering the same level of quality, no matter who is working on the project.

Clients don’t hire specific people, they don’t come to an agency because they want to work with John the designer or Jonella the developer. What they’re hiring is a combined team that will deliver their goals and objectives. Secondly, transparency is super-important, and a simplified rate structure is much easier for clients to navigate and make sense of complex project estimations.

How to make it last the distance

“Commitment and understanding, like in any relationship, is key to longevity”

Like in any relationship, the secret to longevity is commitment. When it comes to maintaining our client relationships, we are dedicated to our clients’ success, so our goal is not just to get the project done. Our goals are our clients’ goals, and we’re committed to achieving them on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. And second is understanding – taking time to get to know the teams, their internal dynamics and working culture, and then adapting to how they work and communicate.

Third, transparency and communication are critical, because that’s what reduces the noise. The aim is to avoid misunderstandings and too many back and forths, because that takes away the focus and eats up precious time. Our clients also need to see that we understand what they need, what their challenges are, and you achieve that through good communication. If you’re working with large teams, that’s especially important.

And finally, with client relationships, there’s proactivity and efficiency – especially when handling large workloads. It’s vital to work efficiently, focusing your time on what really matters – and that’s strategy, creativity and delivering great campaigns and products for our clients.  

Illustration: Midjourney