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"Will You Kick Ass For Us?"

IStock_000002242994XSmall“How many accounts do you work on?”

This question comes up in virtually every newbiz meeting.  In an agency environment, the “answer” is variable and sometimes hard to explain.

First of all, it varies by level.  For example, the junior person in the room might have three accounts, the senior person on the team might serve six accounts (3 of which probably overlap with the junior person).  How many is too many? 

See?  Already you’re confused.

The thing is – “How many accounts do you work on?” is actually not the question we’re being asked.  

The prospective client is actually asking, “We are going to be spending a lot of budget dollars with you: are you absolutely sure that you have enough bandwidth to kick ass with us?”

There’s a good reason this comes up. 

Historically, many agencies have indeed taken on a bit more business than they can handle.  They count on backfilling with newly-hired staff, once the new revenues are secured. 

This creates a bit of a vicious cycle, though: the current staff feels overburdened not only by the new client workload, but by the additional cycles expended on interviewing and training brand-new staffers.  Thus, the newbies are rarely trained adequately – giving rise to the oft-cited perception that PR people are poorly-trained flacks.

The answer to The Question, then, is two-fold. 

#1 – We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have the bandwidth to kick ass.

#2 – We’ve developed a rigorous training schedule to ensure that all of our employees are well prepared to handle their respective assignments.

Of course, as an agency leader, in order to give these answers you ought to a) have the bandwidth, and b) create a gold-star training program.  The truth will out.

And if you’re a prospective client, be sure to meet the entire team and ask questions not just about their workloads, but also about how they’ve been prepared to handle those daily tasks.  They ought to be eager to discuss it … if not, look closely to see if there’s any fear in their eyes!

Comments

This is a fascinating post. And I love your social media news release and website templates. While we're not using all the features, we are using some.

That's constantly something that comes up at our firm. Thankfully, we can plan ahead for these things with the right people for the right job. One idea is evaluate everyones' availability on certain accounts to determine what extra time, if any, they have to give to new clients.

How do you mention employee bandwidth? Is that a measure of hours?

Training is a huge issue, and agencies -- like SHIFT -- that make the effort are unfortunately going to be lumped in with the ones that don't.

You linked to one of my recent examples of sloppy outreach. Here are a few more, all of which have been received by me or people I know in the last few weeks.
- Pitches addressed to the wrong person
- Pitches that have multiple fonts, font sizes and even colors, making it clear that the pitch was created by cut and paste.
- Pitches with the little >> symbols before each line. Duh! A forwarded pitch.

And the favorite: A pitch for an event featuring the Dalai Lama that spelled his name wrong --as Dali Lama. Please, get the client's name right :-)

These aren't necessarily bad content, though some did suffer from that as well. It was sloppy work that might be avoided with a little more training in the tools. Use spellcheck. Learn how to use the email editor.

Susan - ugh, you just made me sick to my stomach with those examples. While I expect some SHIFTers will sometimes make mistakes in their outreach, despite the training, I *hope* they are not the type of LAME errors you've offered up! (Sigh.)

Todd - Great post. This holds true for any kind of services firm. As a small company, the concern becomes billable hours. When the company is growing, it's hard to justify carrying a bench of talent, so what happens? Hire to sold work. It's dangerous since no one's recruiting process is a) bulletproof or b) predictable.
It's important to have rigorous pipeline management as well. If you suddenly have a bunch of client opportunities that turn from speculative to sold overnight, you can be strapped by resources and risk pulling people from current client work to get through the crunch. I'd make the same recommendations to prospective clients, with the addition of taking time to work with your service partner to make a realistic schedule that everyone can commit to.
Adam

I agree with Adam.

From my experience in another industry, the bandwith-account-backfilling-hiring-poor-training issue isn't exclusive to PR firms. I think many businesses based on the client/consultant model suffer from the same malaise. Is that the right word? Dysfunction?

So Todd, how do you suggest that you put it to the client. Do you actually say "we have the bandwidth to kick ass with you/for you" or whatever local variation of that.

How do you know that is really the client's question. What is the real question is "are you big enough to handle this job for us?" or "what other large/small/retail/national chain [insert variation here] have you worked for?"

Do you just guess what you think they mean? Do you confront, call them out on it? Do you just answer the question and hope it matches with their expectations?

I'm asking seriously cause I deal with this feeling often.

Thanks again, all, for the great comments!

@CS - re: "How do you know that is really the client's question. What if the real question is "are you big enough to handle this job for us?" or "what other large/small/retail/national chain [insert variation here] have you worked for?"

This is where Emotional Intelligence needs to kick-in. I try to figure out the question-behind-the-question, and while I am not confrontational, I do sometimes ask outright, "Are you trying to figure out whether we're big enough (or experienced enough) to handle this?"

But I also assume that anyone who's invited us to the table has done a basic search on our credentials, since they likely don't want to waste their own time talking to an unqualified firm! So, if you assume that the Credentials Check has ALREADY been passed, you can move to the questions about Bandwidth (or similar concerns).

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