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Navigating Tough Conversations With Agency Partners

June 12, 2015 | By Cheri Keith

  • One of the hardest aspects of any business relationship is providing constructive feedback, especially when it’s negative
  • Conversations with agencies can be more difficult because they typically involve the full team’s results rather than one person’s
  • We’ve gathered some tips for how to approach, conduct and conclude these difficult discussions to ensure a productive meeting

One of the hardest aspects of any relationship – business or personal – is providing constructive feedback, especially when it’s negative. While most people feel relatively comfortable having an open dialogue about performance and expectations with co-workers, many struggle to replicate this discussion with a services agency. The need to have these conversations can come from a variety of factors, including failure to meet deadlines, lack of communication or missed goals.

Helpful TipsConversations with agencies can seem more difficult because you’re usually discussing the full team’s results, rather than those of a single person. Rather than view this conversation as being conducted on a person-to-corporate entity basis – you are, in fact, having this discussion person to person.

We’ve gathered some tips for how to approach, conduct and conclude these difficult discussions to make sure you clearly articulate your concerns and the meeting is productive:

  • Scheduling. Having spent many years on the agency side, I assure you no agency partner wants a discussion like this sprung on them without prior notice. They need time to prepare and assess the situation, plus you never know what situation you may catch a person in if you call them out of the blue. It can immediately put the agency member on the defensive and derail the discussion before it really begins. Instead, compose an email requesting a time to talk about the account, be it in-person or via phone.
  • Preparation. Write down the goal of the call – what do you want to get out of the discussion? Then write down supporting points and justification for the discussion. From there, SiriusDecisions recommends rehearsing the conversation in your head, keeping in mind how you’d react if you were on the receiving end of the direct and sincere feedback your are planning to convey. If you struggle playing out the scenario in your head, bring in a trusted coworker or peer to role-play with you.
  • The conversation. Approach the conversation in the same way you’d approach a co-worker with constructive criticism. Preface the discussion with the spirit of this feedback: To make sure the program meets or exceeds goals. In all likelihood, the agency representative will be pleased that you’re reaching out to resolve the issue and find a solution that works for both sides.
  • Wrap-up. Conclude the meeting by creating action items for each team. This provides a signal to the agency that you’re committed to bringing the program back on track. Additionally, clearly communicate when you’ll check in again on progress, so expectations are set in terms of timing. This will help the agency set milestones in achieving results.

Agency partners are extended members of your team and should be treated with the same respect as internal team members. While conversations about missing goals or deadlines can be difficult, they will serve to strengthen the relationship with both teams and keep everyone working in lockstep.

What do you keep in mind when approaching difficult conversations with agency or services partners? I’m interested in hearing your feedback or tips you’ve used in approaching these situations!

Cheri Keith

Cheri brings more than a decade of marketing experience to SiriusDecisions’ Demand Services team. Her background includes experience serving b-to-b organizations at communications agencies and tenure working within marketing organizations. She is a respected and results-oriented leader with a proven track record of moving people and programs forward. Follow Cheri at Twitter.com/@Cheri29

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