Friday, August 8, 2008

OnlineSpin: Primal Callings And The Ethos of Client Services

Last week Kendall wrote "Nothing is Killing Anything: Musings On Digital And The Business Of News."

Brian Olson wrote in response, "Well said, Kendall. I start out each morning with my one cup of coffee, the morning papers and local/national news stations on split screen.

I realize the papers will soon be replaced to my laptop instead, but there is something cool about holding a piece of newsprint.

Time and Business Week are delivered each week, print versions.

At work I totally embrace social media, in fact a big chunk of my day is spent on it.

The one constant is, people will always want news and information.

It started out with cavemen drawing on cave walls, so other cavemen could read all about what was going on, who killed what wild animal.

The real change isn't between old and new media, but the people delivering the information. Often without the vetting process.

The good news is, we're all now empowered to be reporters.

The bad news is, everyone is a public figure. It's my hope that whatever years I have left in my life, that there will always be a mix of the old and the new.

A great column and a great read. It made my day."

Friday, August 8, 2008
Primal Callings And The Ethos of Client Services
By Kendall Allen

People who are known for their client work share some muscles and sensibilities --- and a lens on the agency world in which we thrive. First, if they are known for it by their peers and within their business universe, they probably do client services well. And, they've probably been at it for a very long time. I am not talking about the fresh account managers or strategists running projects and taking meeting summaries. I refer to those who hold a whopping personal client history of tens and hundreds of clients, across industries, across a spectrum of decision making roles -- CMOs, CTOs, Corporate Comms, eCommerce -- and of course the proprietary personality matrix and points of reference that come with a base like this.

As careers begin, one essentially must experience this to learn from it and call on the value over time. We can't tell you, we have to show you. I would like to share my points of view on client services, to perhaps provide some subtle guideposts to those at the dawn of their career, and some bonding thoughts for long-timers.

Going There in The First Place -- I started out in print publishing, dabbled in "new media" and then moved to online publishing back in the early to mid-'90s. It was an original need for business diversity that led me to the agency side. I wanted to work with a flurry of brands, not just one. Shift gears throughout the day, the week, the quarter -- servicing client by client, to gain rich experience in a client-facing world. Truth be told, for whatever reason, it was a primal craving. This either makes me a freak -- or points to some of the innate stuff that I call on in my work, every day. Whatever the core truth, there has been absolutely no turning back.

There have been success stories, thrilling engagements, snoozers and horrible dramas and devastating disasters -- but, like all of us, I would not trade a single year, era, or client services mini-series for all the still waters in the world.

All those with some roots, battle scars and seasoned perspective have their own set of beliefs and principles. We share and we commiserate. While I do personally feel that there is an innate set of things required, there are particular principles that have proved out over the years. I believe these things to be true when it comes to the best client people I know:

-    Begin with Business. No matter the nature of the potential business or client engagement, you begin with a business conversation. And, this conversation starts at the very first meeting. Then, you get to objectives, you get to marketing or media or whatever is the core of the client's mission critical. You need to connect on the thinking upfront. Dial it up or dial it down based on your own comfort level - and bring in an assist if you need it.

-    Conquer Procurement. You make it your business to know the procurement process -- and understand that it will differ by organization and corporate structure. And, you may find yourself having to explain ALL of this to your very own company. It can warp the sales cycle and the manner in which you are able to develop engagements. In the same vein, the closer you can get to the budgeting process the better. This may take time. Be vigilant as you develop your connections with decision-makers. Hone these sporting skills.

-    Strategic Selling. Adopt and explore the art of strategic selling. There are many aspects to this, but primarily, it is essential navigate the client-side company to work your way to true decision makers and gain access to the levers and buttons you will need to leverage any engagement. This includes knowing exactly how your clients and everyone in their equation is compensated.

-    Follow-through. Sounds obvious, but seriously: Do what you say you are going to do. If you cannot, call or write and say so before the 11th hour. Be the person who can be depended on to follow through -- period.

-    Those Eyes, Those Arms. These skills do not just apply to sellers. The best client people can read a room, a face, and even the vaguest body language. Know when eyes are questioning, agreeing with, disdaining or laughing at you and your company. Read crossed arms, leaning forward or back, shredding paper, playing with paperclips, whatever. And, to the extent you are comfortable, respond to these clues openly -- artfully, absolutely -- by shifting course, or even subtly calling out the perceived, palpable dissonance. This one takes a lifetime. But, the pursuit should be ongoing.

In my time on this planet, I have had the pleasure of working with clients who became lifelong friends and trusted go-to people as well as the devils -- and learning reams of lessons either way. So, if one guy refuses to let us use his first name and always wears rose colored glasses; if another calls himself Prince Tommy; if another drinks at every meeting; if another's blue-tooth blinks throughout lunch -- it all becomes a part of the living history.

In the end, I believe in the 3 "I's:"

1.    Insight - Connect on the thinking.
2.    Intuition - Get to know your gut and learn how to respond to it.
3.    Integrity - Your core. It is what you have, no matter how often you move. It means many things. But, basically, know and show who you are.

Finally, of course, leave out that 4th I. "You" and "we" sound a little better to the client ear.

Kendall Allen is currently advising clients and partners on digital marketing and convergence media. Previously she was managing director of Incognito Digital, LLC, a boutique digital media agency and creative studio. She also held top posts at iCrossing and Fathom Online.

Online Spin for Friday, August 8, 2008:

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