Michael J. Brunner knows his clients feel the pinch of the economy. And he wants to avoid their cutting-room floors.
So the CEO of Brunner, an advertising agency with 185 employees, needs to make sure he’s meeting clients’ needs. That comes from aligning his efforts with their expectations.
“Every client has different needs,” says Brunner, whose company saw $24 million in 2008 revenue. “So it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we are doing the best job we can to make sure we know exactly what those needs are.”
Smart Business spoke to Brunner about aligning yourself with your clients’ needs.
Q. How do you stay aware of clients’ needs?
It’s always a discussion. If we can’t get it to be crystal clear, we will keep asking questions. We will ask them, ‘What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? What do you want your marketing to do? Where do you feel that it has come up short?’ Those are all exploratory questions, which will ultimately lead us to what we are trying to do. The whole point of this discussion is to be connected to them at that point.
And, of course, everything’s annualized. So I’m not talking [about] the vision of the company, ‘Where do you want to be in three years?’ That’s helpful in a discussion, but what I’m focusing on is this year what is it that you need to do; what is it that you want to do?
Q. How do you align yourself with your clients’ needs?
It significantly improves the relationship if you both have the same objectives. So what we try to do is link part of our compensation to the company’s main objective or initiative. In doing so, you have perfect alignment and you’re not cross-purposed.
Part of that compensation is based exactly on how we have performed for you. It’s two-way; they rate us, and we rate them. A relationship is just that it’s more than one person. If the evaluation just goes in one direction, I don’t think it’s nearly as beneficial. That allows for constructive criticism from each side, and that’s a way of definitely improving how you work.
When we first start working with the client, we explain our approach. So it’s not as though we get into this and then it’s a curveball and they’re not familiar with it. You could define service a hundred different ways, so what if your definition and my definition are extremely far apart? It forces you to have that discussion upfront about what is it that we’re trying to accomplish. The more you can align your organization against that, the better chance you have for success.
We cannot go in with our [evaluation] tool, our information, our system and say, ‘Let’s work together.’ That doesn’t sound like an us that sounds like a me. But if I sit down with you and I say, ‘Let’s work together. Here’s a tool. Here’s a starting point. What do you think works; what do you think doesn’t?’ And then we come to an agreement about each of the areas; you’ve got a stake in the game.
Sometimes we would throw that out the window and we would start based on whatever’s important to the organization that we’re working with.
You have to agree on [the metrics]. There is really no chance for misalignment because before you can measure it, you have to develop what they are. We have to know what we’re trying to achieve.
Q. How does that evaluation work?
We break the service aspect down into a number of different attributes. Those attributes are rated and then there’s an opportunity for added comments. Then they’re tallied, they’re charted, and we sit down and we discuss it. We do the same thing going the other way.
It’s one thing writing it and sending it over in an e-mail. It’s a completely different thing when you have to say, ‘Can you share where we did not meet your standard based on this comment or these results?’ It’s as simple as, ‘Why did we get a 3 here?’ ‘Well, here’s why you got a 3.’ Without the tool: ‘How are we doing?’ ‘You’re doing fine.’ That’s usually not a good signal.
It’s not wrapped around a person it’s wrapped around that subject. You have a chance to talk about it: ‘Well, how can we improve this? How can we make this better?’
Q. How do you establish an open-evaluation environment?
The first thing you do is you lead the way, meaning [dishonesty and personal attacks] are out of bounds for you. We can’t do that if we don’t want you to do that.
The entire operating premise is building on a valuable long-term relationship. If the other side is not interested in that, then forget this. This won’t work. So I already have a long-term mindset. If you don’t, this won’t work. But I can get you to think that there’s value to this because people don’t want to be working with a different agency every other day.
This has to be a relationship built on trust; there has to be information supplied. I have to know that sales were down last month; we are not accomplishing what we need to accomplish. I’ll know that because I’ll be monitoring that at the same time you are, therefore I can do something about it.
But without the clearly mutually agreed and specific objectives upfront, those things cannot happen. It’s a whole lot better to sit down at the beginning of the year and lay out the specifics so they know and you know.
How to reach: Brunner, (412) 995-9500 or www.brunnerworks.com