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11/29/2010 What Are You Selling?

Agencies and marketers, big and small, are in the business selling services. We sell our services to clients and hope that we help them grow. Many agencies say they’re selling process or strategy or even engagement. But at the end of the day, most of them are selling the services and people they already have: creative, production and media. 

One reason why client satisfaction with agencies is often so low is that clients want agencies to recommend solutions that fit the clients’ needs. The challenge for agencies is that they make money from filling the plates of the people they already have on staff. And if you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

Digital agencies are no different. It’s why we still see so many microsites out there. Social agencies are falling into the same trap.

Optimally agencies would come in and evaluate the marketing situation and opportunities from a neutral standpoint. That’s one of the things I try to do with Digalicious. Since we’re a networked agency, we have no vested interest in suggesting one solution over another, since we have no “inventory” to move. I know from experience how hard that is working with a bigger agency, since selling what you have gives you bigger profit margins.

Big agencies have tried to solve this by either having a huge array of services, or by becoming a holding company for separate specialized entities. But what we’ve seen, instead, are problems coordinating these internal groups and even political infighting between holding company “brothers.”

The problem is that clients don’t care about agency problems. They care about their own problems.

That’s one of the reasons why agencies like Co. might succeed: they have a core group of people but don’t have to worry about what recommendations they suggest, as long as they’re the right suggestions and that they have quality people and partners who can step in.The opportunity is that the collaboration will work better when everyone sits at the table as equals and shares in the decision-making. 

Looking ahead, the biggest challenge is having enough high-quality, independent collaborators to tap into. Maybe more and more people will leave the bigger agencies to start their own. Yet the agencies are making this harder every day since most of them have a lot of money to spend on talent. If that talent stays in the system, the collaborators pool will stay shallow.

Ultimately the clients will tip the scales one way or another by deciding on whether they want help from a neutral arbiter or from someone with a dog in the fight.



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