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Does your agency have a yes culture, and is this hindering your profit? 

3rd May 2022

It is easier and more pleasurable to say yes than no, especially when a client’s asking. But if your agency has developed a yes culture, where a handful of big accounts get what they want without question, and for free, it will hit your profits harder than you think.

Of course, say yes to that fantastic new project that will be formally costed and quoted, but not to all those requests that start with “can you just?”

This piece explores the common reasons agencies say yes to client favours, ad hoc requests, and extra work, and how you can break the pattern.

Reason one: The client really appreciates it

Of course, this is the primary motivation to say yes. You think that your client is eternally grateful for all those late-night calls and emails, all those little extras. I hate to break it to you, but they may not even have noticed. And if it’s been going on a while, it’s probably now expected rather than appreciated.

If you want an appreciative client, then produce great work. It will be more impactful, and it is the best base for a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. And once you stop saying yes, you’ll have more time to produce this knock-out work.

Reason two: We want to grow the account

You hope your willingness to say yes will mean your client gives you more work. But if this work is dependent on you saying yes to extras, this client is likely to be less profitable than others – you’ll deliver this work at the expense of more profitable work or new projects.

It’s essential that you frequently assess your profitability rate by client, otherwise, you won’t be aware which clients are profitable. One client may be 15% less profitable than others, but without this knowledge and with your yes culture! These accounts are likely to grow. And when they do, it’s going to seriously hinder overall agency profits.

It’s black and white, it’s just maths, but it’s hard to see this when you’re staring down the barrel of a big client and the prospect of more work. Keep reminding yourself of these facts!

Reason three: They’re a new account and we want to impress

It’s common to think that the best way to please a new client is to say yes to everything. But your new client isn’t going to love you for doing this; what this does is set the benchmark for how much work you’ll deliver for X amount of cash. So, when you eventually charge what you need to charge to make a profit, they’re not going to like it. It even could cause friction.

If you want to treat a new client, make sure they know you’re treating them and by how much. Let them know you’ve done X for free. Then there is no issue when you eventually charge what you should have been charging from day one.

Reason four: We have a culture of saying yes

We’re no longer in the territory of a yes culture creeping it – it’s here, it’s lived, it’s baked into your agency DNA.

It is so easy for this well-intended culture to creep in. New starters and junior account managers want to keep clients happy. If seasoned pros don’t like saying no to big clients, then nor will someone who is straight out of uni – especially if they perceive their role’s major KPI to be keeping clients happy and growing accounts. There is an enormous temptation to push these client favours through. And the favours won’t just stop when the employee progresses through the ranks, they become an expected part of the client relationship. That culture is then fed back down the chain and it’s a difficult cycle to break.

It’s important to teach everyone at every level to be commercially focused and to understand that the client isn’t always right. Allow junior team members to ask more senior team members when they’re in doubt and arm everyone with data such as ironclad scoping documents and rigorous timesheet data. Teach your team that it’s appropriate to push back and educate them on the best way to do it (with support and factual data.)

In summary

If you fear your agency is in danger of adopting a damaging yes culture, then hopefully, this article has encouraged you to reflect on why and how you might rein this in.

But, saying yes too much is only one factor contributing to agency over-servicing. If you are concerned your agency has a wider over-servicing problem, then you might find our article 5 Reasons Agencies Over-service and how to avoid it helpful. We take a rounded view of other top contributors to agency over-servicing.

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