Second Guessed: What to Do When Your Agency Faces A Client Audit
By Karl Sakas
Worried about a client audit? Here’s what to do when a client is second-guessing your agency’s work.
An agency owner reached out for help. She had struggled to deliver results for one of her clients, and the client was now talking to another agency. Worse, her client wanted to get her work audited by the competitor—they asked the other agency to review what my client’s agency had done!
I’ve been in two similar situations as an agency PM. It’s a terrible feeling—as if you’re getting audited by the government. On top of that, it’s hard to justify billing for the time you need to invest to support the audit, which can become endless.
In both situations, the other agency confirmed my agency had done the right thing. I felt vindicated, but the two client relationships were ultimately broken. When there’s so little trust, even the assurance that “they did the right thing” isn’t enough to restore the relationship to where it once was.
What to do when a client asks for an audit
Clients traditionally will do an “agency review” when they want to hire a new agency. But a mid-engagement audit is worse—your client hasn’t directly said they’re going to fire you, but things are heading in that direction. You may feel powerless.
Find out their underlying concern
Take a step back and find out; what is the larger concern your client seems to have? Why have they stopped seeing you as the Trusted Advisor?
I talk a lot about Warmth & Competence; doing work well and making clients feel special. Frame the situation in this model and figure out what went wrong.
Be diplomatic about the other firm
Take the moral high road—be diplomatic. You can frame it something like this:
We came across a few months ago as an emerging agency. Their advice seems to focus on ; my sense is they have some good tactics for short-term wins but not necessarily a long-term growth strategy for clients.
You’re always welcome to get feedback on our work, but asking to review our proposal does appear to have a direct conflict of interest—we and they do similar things, so they have a strong incentive to say their plan is better.
My client mentioned she’d sent a proposal, and her client was going to ask the other agency for feedback on the proposal. I advised against trying to rebut each point the other agency made. (Also, mark your proposals as “Confidential and Proprietary.”)
If you love them, let them go
My client asked if there was a way she could negotiate an extra few months to turn things around. She’d already negotiated an extension and things weren’t going as smoothly as expected. At that point, you aren’t going to keep getting more extensions.
If your client wants to try the other agency—out of a desire for variety, or something else—you ultimately can’t stop them. Clients have choices… but so do you.
I recommend sticking to the moral high road and showing you want what’s best for your client. Something Go to the full article.