Relationship Rules for Successful Ad Agency Business Development

Ad Agency Biz Dev Strategies

On May 1st, Converse Digital turned five — five years of helping clients turn conversations into customers. But as I sit here reflecting on what I’ve learned over the last year, two overriding lessons overshadow everything else. Such universal truths. Such simple rules. Rules that I’ve spoken of before, but yet, it took the events of this year to remind this agency owner just how important they are. So now let me share them with you.

Everyone is replaceable

That’s right! Everyone, including me, could go today. Never forget this. Others will lapse and consider themselves untouchable, above the rest, too important to do without. We are not irreplaceable.

In my world, the agency or consultant world, you earn your clients’ trust, respect and loyalty each and every day. Every email, call, memo, recommendation and idea determines if you actually get a chance to get up and do it again tomorrow.

You can’t mail it in or rest on your laurels. You have to be completely dedicated to the client, their brands and the success of both.

Trust is fragile

Man, we all know this one. Once trust is lost, good luck getting it back. Ask your parents or mine. But what about getting trust back from a client?

My first boss told me that clients hire people, not agencies. I didn’t understand this concept at first. Now years later, I completely understand that clients retain agencies based on how they relate with the people that support them. Every day, the client reviews the relationship and chooses not to fire. Clients need to feel they can trust the people that run their accounts, create their ads, voice their social media and craft their marketing strategies.

But damn, I’ve seen so many agencies make their agency/client relationship difficult with double-talk and the inability to own up to their own mistakes. Perhaps because Converse Digital does so much digital strategy consulting for clients, they are more willing to invite us inside of their world. Or maybe because they know I’m “former agency” as they say, our clients (and even my non-client CMO friends), tend to ask me questions like, “Why is my agency doing this? Isn’t there a better way? or Are they recommending this because it’s in my best interest or because they’ll make more money?” and such.

These questions and insecurities with their agency relationship, open doors for consultants like Converse Digital. And what’s behind the door it not always pretty. Mostly, by the time we are called on to help, we find agencies that care more about making money than keeping a strong client/agency relationship. Other times the existing agency is so far behind the technological curve that they’re recommending strategies that were great — three years ago. My favorites — advising clients to do the [insert technology trend de jour] that all the ‘thought leaders’ are blogging about or the kiss of death —  they just think they and they alone are responsible for the brand’s success.

Newsflash: clients are people with dreams, hopes and needs just like everyone else. And the strongest of those needs — at least in marketing terms — is a smart, committed and trustworthy consigliere that will guide them in the right direction without thought or consideration for their own best interests.

But then, that’s not just good advice for us agency folks… that’s just good advice for life.

The biggest lesson I learned this year — be a good person. Put other peoples’ well being ahead of your own and trust karma. It’s taken five years for me… five years of always trying to do what is best for my client, of being a good partner even when it cost me money, and by constantly trying to ensure my clients were never behind the technology curve or caught flat footed.

Has it been difficult at times? Hell yes.

Has it been worth it?

Well for today at least… I’m not getting fired by anyone and I’m enjoying a fine bottle of Grgich Cabernet. 

I’ll take that.

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About Tom Martin

Tom is 25+ year veteran of the sales & marketing industry with a penchant for stiff drinks, good debates and showing companies how to Sell Greatly, and turn conversations into customers. He is the founder of Converse Digital , author of The Invisible Sale and a contributing writer for Advertising Age. Tom guides clients through the digital sales & marketing maze and helps companies teach their sales force how to Painlessly Prospect their way to more sales. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.


  1. Can relate to many parts of your post, Tom. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Tom,

    Glad to hear you celebrate with Grgich Hills Cabernet. Cheers!

    • Thanks Ken,

      Always my go-to for major milestones… need to get myself back there sooner than later to restock the wine rack with more deliciousness.


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