How to cultivate and sustain partnership relationships with your clients

Earlier this month iSentia announced King Content, Australia’s largest content marketing agency, would close its doors due to poor financial performance.

Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes speculated the demise of King Content was due to content marketing being in-sourced. That’s despite virtually everyone else, including Curata and the Content Market Institute, reporting a steady increase in the number of companies that outsource content creation, if not content marketing as a whole.

Others attribute King Content’s failure to a huge turnover of staff, service delivery struggles, and its transactional approach.

In the business-to-business space, client relationships are generally classified as transactional or partnership-based. So why might King Content’s transactional style have contributed to its undoing?

Let’s explore ten attributes that define a partnership relationship so that you can then cultivate and sustain one.

Commitment

Transactional relationships are short-term. They’re like a one-night stand. There’s a job to be done. Do it and move on. Partnership relationships are enduring. In a partnership relationship, both parties make a longer-term commitment. That allows them to make plans together, to work toward goals, and to grow together.

Approach

Transactional relationships are tactical. They’re in the now. The client doesn’t particularly need or want to involve you in the strategy or planning – just the execution. Partnership relationships are strategic; they span both the present and the future. In a partnership relationship, you’re part of the inner sanctum. You’re not brought in after key decisions are made; you’re consulted as a trusted advisor.

Action

Transactional relationships are reactive. Because of this, engagements tend to be made on a case-by-case basis. There’s no promise of workload or revenue stream, rendering it difficult for you to manage resources or make investments in your business. Conversely, in a partnership relationship, you’re proactive. You’re constantly thinking for the client and viewing the world through the eyes of the client. How can we add value? What else might we do to help? How might we achieve even better outcomes?

Loyalty

There’s no, or limited, loyalty in a transactional relationship. Clients will often select from the open market and some agencies will accept or even actively pursue an existing client’s direct competitors. In a partnership relationship, the client will be loyal to their contracted or preferred providers – quite often in exchange for category exclusivity or other negotiated conditions.

Trust

Trust is a defining characteristic of partnership relationships. And with a high level of trust comes permission to fail. There’s something very comforting about that. If a project goes off the rails both parties will work together to set it right. If something doesn’t work, both parties learn from the experience. When you’re in a transactional relationship if you don’t perform, you’re out.

Ownership

Transactional relationships are often owned by an individual in each organisation. As such, when there are people movements (as appears to have been the case at King Content), relationships are lost. You’ll know you’re in a transactional relationship if you fear the appointment of a new client contact. Partnership relationships are organisational. There are multiple people involved and invested on both sides.

Value

Transactional relationships are price-driven; they’re self-serving. Partnership relationships are value-driven and mutually-beneficial. In a partnership relationship, both parties understand they’re in a commercial relationship but they’re also willing to share some of the risk as well as the rewards. The value of the relationship continues to build. In fact, one of the most valuable elements of a partnership relationship is the corporate memory that’s accumulated about the client by the agency over time.

Involvement

Transactional relationships are low involvement. There’s no, or little, emotional or other investment. In contrast, partnership relationships are high involvement. In a partnership relationship, systems might be integrated. Staff might be embedded in each other’s office or seconded to each other’s workplace. The client and agency might engage in joint marketing activities. Both parties will display flexibility and a willingness to make an effort – to go above and beyond to ensure the relationship is the best it can be.

Communication

In transactional relationships communication is often by necessity or on a need-to-know basis. In partnership relationships, communication is recognised as being critical to the success of the relationship. It’s direct, open and two-way.

Collaboration

Transactional relationships tend to be adversarial whereas partnership relationships are highly collaborative. Cooperation is not something you have to do; it’s what you want to do. There’s a level of interdependence in a partnership relationship because you’re striving toward compatible, as opposed to common, goals.

 

What sort of relationships do you want to cultivate and sustain?