A mile in their shoes: How working in-house made me a better agency partner

As seen in the Nashville Business Journal.

Most everyone works with some sort of professional service providers to accomplish the goals of their organization – partners, vendors, suppliers, whatever we call them.

Anyone who provides a professional service likely understands the most important goal of client satisfaction is making certain the customer is happy and there is a good working relationship.

What many in a service-oriented environment tend to forget is perspective. Ultimately, we have to make our clients happy and not just do what we want. We have to do what our client wants and the way they want it done while still showing our value and expertise.

After working in the agency world for several years and then taking a leap in-house, I learned exactly how I wanted and didn’t want to be treated by those partners, giving me some invaluable lessons as I stepped back into agency life.


Be patient. They have a long list. 

While billable hours and moving the ball forward are what we focus on in an agency or professional services firm, our clients’ priorities aren’t always in line with that. We may only have one project we’re working on with our client, but they may have 10 others that come before it. Not to mention their boss may have other ideas about what’s important and should be done quickly.

That’s not to say that we should let things slide until a project fizzles, but striking the right balance between pestering and following up is key. Understanding that clients have other priorities and letting them know you’re aware of that will go a long way toward making them feel like you’re on their side.


Know their budget and where you fit into it.

Our clients often have large budgets, but our work may be just a fraction of that. When you know your client’s total budget and how you fit in, it helps you to understand where you fit in the line of priorities.

Some clients have extremely collaborative environments where multiple partners are brought in at a time. Others keep things in silos and control the pieces themselves. Whichever way a specific client likes to work, partners should seek to know all moving pieces and how their particular portion functions for the organization.

Ask clients about their current priorities to get a clear understanding of where you fall into their daily tasks and current projects so you can exceed their expectations.


Make it easy on them.

The best partners and vendors I had when I was in-house were the ones who made things easiest on me. How did they do this? At first, I didn’t realize it. But after working with several partners, I took notice of those who understood my priorities and went out of their way to make things clear and easy for me.

That included those partners who could lend their expertise and direction so I could just say yes or no, partners who gave me firm deadlines to ensure things were accomplished on time and partners who helped me showcase the work and goals accomplished to my boss/team.

As partners to clients, it’s our duty to make those contacts we work with look good and make their lives easier. When we understand what their world looks like, where they’re coming from and what their goals are we have a much better shot at making that happen.