How to Get Over Trust Issues and Retain Agency Clients Longer

By Jason Swenk on December 5, 2021

Do your clients have trust issues with your agency? How can you go about creating an honest rapport to build trust? Working at a larger agency Bob Bailey started to notice a trust problem. Clients are losing trust in their agencies. This trend has actually increased over time, with clients moving to in-house services. This is the opportunity he and his partners saw when they created their agency Truth Collective. They wondered “wouldn’t it be great if a marketing agency could thrive by just telling the truth?” Then they set out to have honest conversations about strategy, creativity, and relationships. In his conversation with Jason, Bob spoke about all-time low trust levels in agencies, how he tries to build trust with potential clients from the first meeting, how he has built leadership teams in his agency, and why agency owners must themselves from being the fixer to empower their teams.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Honest rapport with clients. Trust in agencies has hit all-time lows, according to Bob. That’s not a place any of us would want to be. So how to gain back client trust in agencies? Especially in a time when more and more clients are moving to in-house many services. Bob believes the key to building trust starts with the initial conversation. He makes it a point to treat it as a conversation, not a pitch, and makes it about them. “I feel like squaring the meeting centrally right on their business and what they need is the place to be,” he assured. Also, he’s seen the positive effect of knowing who you are as a business and how you can help their business, instead of trying to do everything, which comes across as just wanting more money.
  2. Building leadership. As we always say, you can get to the million-dollar mark almost by accident. But to be a multi-million-dollar agency you’ll need to start building a structure, starting with your leadership team. Bob didn’t always get that right, in some cases because the people weren’t quite right. But also because they weren’t quite ready as new owners to really understand what that meant. They really had to look themselves in the mirror when the company hit a cap at $3.8 million and start to get serious about leadership. They needed more structure, so they selected a group and shared everything about the business with them. “If these guys are going to lead, they need all the information to become leaders too,” he acknowledges.
  3. Try to not be a fixer. How can you help your leadership team grow? Prepare them to solve issues and trust them. Bob and his partners started organizing weekly meetings with their leadership team to discuss new business leads and prospects, financial forecasts, what they call remarkable creative briefs and opportunities, they also talk about employees or client issues and possible solutions. This way, they started to prepare the leadership team and shared the information and metrics they may need to do their jobs. Ultimately, it is always about trusting that they are capable to face any issues that may come up. Agency owners normally get to where they are because they are very good at solving problems, but at some point it should be your team’s responsibility to do so.

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Creating an Honest Rapport With Your Clients to Address Low Trust Levels in Agencies

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? Jason Swenk here. I have another great episode and we’re not going to talk about frou-frou shit. We’re going to talk about rebuilding trust in our industry, and we’re going to go over some really cool things. And I didn’t know, he was telling me in the pre-show Bob was telling me that agency trust is ranked between Congress and I think something else. He’ll tell us, I can’t remember, but like it’s pathetic.

So we’re going to talk about what you can do in order to build trust. And if you have that trust, you can make more money, scale faster. and have the life that you want, where you have the freedom. So let’s go ahead and get into the show.

Hey, Bob. Welcome to show.

Bob: [00:00:49] Hey, Jason. What’s up, man? Thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:00:51] I almost forgot which buttons to hit. We were talking about frou-frou stuff before. I’m so messed up.

Bob: [00:00:58] I’m just going for the ride.

Jason: [00:00:59] Yeah. Tell us who you are and what you do.

Bob: [00:01:02] Jason, my name is Bob Bailey. I am one of the three founding partners of a creative company called Truth Collective.

And my role here is the CEO, which I have sort of reframed from chief executive officer to the chief everyone officer. And I don’t know if that’s frou frou stuff to you or not. But for me, it sort of keeps me focused on, you know, my most important thing and that’s my team. So thanks for having me.

Jason: [00:01:27] Yeah. As long as you’re having fun and you guys are doing impact, I don’t care what you call it.

So how’d, you guys get started in this crazy industry that we’re in?

Bob: [00:01:38] It’s a good question. I’ve been listening to some of your shows and you know, a lot of folks, they tend to see a, a problem or a gap out there and they feel like they can fill that. And it was, it was similar with us.

We were working together at a, at a larger agency. And at the time, like there was just getting hard. Like it was, it was getting really, really hard. And we started seeing these patterns where consumers were trusting brands less. Agencies… clients were trusting their agencies less. And even like inside the agencies, people trusting each other less. And so we said, man, like… Wouldn’t it be just really easy and wouldn’t it be awesome if a marketing agency could thrive by just telling the truth?

Like, what if you were just honest about everything? What if you weren’t like out there inflating case studies, inflating agency credentials presentations? What if you could just go out there and like be yourself and tell people the information that’s going to really help them?

And it was a really like novel, like silly idea at the moment. But we really got behind it and, um, we’ve built, we built a business on that. And so it’s been really fun.

Jason: [00:02:47] Well, how do you separate yourself? Because there’s lots of agencies out there that are full of shit and they’re not truthful. But they say they are.

So how do you guys do that? Like, tell me about the stat that you were talking about in the pre-show. And I kind of teased in the intro, like the agency industry is between Congress and what for…?

Bob: [00:03:12] Yeah. It’s, Gallup does this annual survey on like trusted industries and they go through all of them and there is like pretty far down the list used car salespeople, advertising industry, Congress. So we’re sandwiched between those two, those two industries.

And like, I don’t, if like, for me, like that’s not a place that I want to live and after eight years or so, it, hasn’t not only as it hasn’t gotten better. I think it’s actually probably getting a little bit worse.

I mean, especially when you look at how clients are responding to it and in housing, everything. And it’s really, it’s a pretty interesting situation. And so I think we have some stuff to fix.

Jason: [00:03:55] Well, you know, when, when we chat and we interview agencies to join our mastermind, we ask lots of questions around their delivery and the results that they give to their clients.

And you’ll be so surprised about how many that they don’t know it. And they started by accident. They took a Facebook course on ads, and then they started like, they were really good marketers, but they could never deliver their own service efficiently. And like, it just blows me out of the water that, and people always ask me, what’s the one thing you have to do to scale your agency?

I’m like, well, you have to do something really well for your clients.

Bob: [00:04:34] Yeah, for sure. I think that the work that we tend to do tends to focus on something we actually changed during COVID. But we got really focused in, on the stuff that we love to do and the stuff that we’re truly like sort of brilliant at: creative strategy, insights, and big idea platforms.

And we really tend to focus on like high-impact tactics, like the stuff that’s going to really like move the brand forward. Sort of gradually moving away from a lot of the activation kind of things. But, um, for us, it’s really important that, you know, we’re setting up. How are we going to know if this works? How are we going to be happy?

Like, yeah, there’s the qualitative stuff. But a lot of times there’s not business metrics in place. There’s not foundational stuff in place on the client-side. And so we do all that we can to build those baselines so that we know for if we’re helping them improve their business brand and in the behaviors of the customers.

It’s all we care about.

Jason: [00:05:32] What are some keys in order to build trust with your clients?

Bob: [00:05:37] I think it starts from the initial conversation. And I think that that conversation has to be different than anything that they felt from other agencies. I don’t have a PowerPoint that I use to introduce me or my agency to clients. I have a conversation.

I feel like if you show up with your deck, then the meeting is about me and not them. And so I feel like squaring the meeting centrally right on their business and what they need is the place to be. And you’d be surprised how different that actually is. So I think it starts there and, you know, it sort of quickly goes into the things that we do and the things that we will not do.

And so, you know, I think that’s also been a disarming thing where clients will, they’ll say, you know, well, I know, you know, as the owner, like you want to do all my stuff. Uh, because you know, you’re money motivated and I’m like, well, actually, no, like I don’t want to do a thousand banner ads. I don’t want to do all, I don’t want to do your emails. I don’t want to do those things.

Like I want to help your internal team be successful with that stuff. I think there’s just like those sort… of known who we are and being okay with just like being okay with having a conversation about that. But I think it really just sets a tone for this is the kind of partnership that we’re after, and this is how we’re going to help you be most successful and help the other agencies in your network be more successful too.

Jason: [00:07:03] Yeah. You know, I always use the analogy of the creepy guy in the conference. Like, do you have the creepy guy in the conference come up to you and they just start throwing up on you about how cool their company is and how amazing he is. All that. You’re like, you’re the creepy dude. Get away from me.

The other guy comes up to you and starts asking you questions. And by asking questions, the whole attention is on them. People are going to like that conversation because it’s about them. And that’s what we always liked when we would come and have initial calls with our prospects. We were the same way. And I, and I always hate when agencies are like, well, we don’t have our portfolio or our deck ready. What is that…?

I’m like, you don’t need that shit. The companies that want that, that means you’re going to be doing an RFP, which really stands for request for fucking punishment. You shouldn’t be doing that. So I love that approach.

Let’s kind of switch focus a little bit and talk about because you have over 30 people, um, you know, multimillion dollar agency. A lot of people can hit the million mark by accident.

But when you start getting in the multiple millions, you have to get a lot of things right. I mean, you still haven’t figured out everything. I don’t have everything figured out. No one does. If they do, you should shoot them with a water gun and be like, you’re lying. But how are you building better leaders? Because I feel that in order to get to the level that you’re at, you have to build a really amazing team, which it starts with the leadership.

Bob: [00:08:43] Totally. You’re right, man. Like we, gosh… We’ve been in business for eight years now and you know, I always think about us like a version. You know, the current version of Truth Collective, and you know, we’ve been through, we’ve been through a few and we’ve tried some things and we didn’t get it exactly right.

Whether it was, you know, you talked about the leaders and the leadership team. I think in some cases like the people weren’t quite right. But then also we weren’t quite ready as sort of new owners to really understand what that even meant. We were very much in a mindset of like we’re modeling the behaviors we expect and why don’t you just understand that stuff?

And that’s not fair to anybody. And it also, you know, to your point, like you’ll hit a cap and the cap… Our cap was like right around like three and a half to 3.8 million where… We can do that. Like kind of with any team, with any set of clients, like that’s, that was what we were.

And we, you know, we did that and we said, geez, you know, it’s us. Like we looked in the mirror and said, okay, like we got to get out of the way here. And we got to get really serious about the leaders on the team, but how we going to do it? And it was about the people, but we also just needed some real structure and we were growing and growing rapidly, but we weren’t growing in like an organized way.

We started as an account guy, a strategist and a creative guy. And as we grew, like, we just hired more people like us. But what we weren’t doing is growing from the standpoint of like the functions of the business.

Like I wasn’t, we weren’t thinking about, okay, how are we going to staff new business growth? How are we going to staff client service? How are we going to staff creative? How are we going to staff the administrative stuff? And, you know, people just looked at all three of us all the time for decisions. And we were just, we just became the bottleneck that was holding it back.

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Yeah, you were the toll booth. I always like to kind of say.

Bob: [00:11:43] Yes, you’ve talked about that before.

Jason: [00:11:44] Yeah, and you kept mentioning a keyword: how? You’re like, how do we do this? How do we do this? When did you start realizing who? And giving them the power in order to make the decision?

Bob: [00:11:58] Yeah. It was actually in the fall of 2019. So we, we decided we needed to try the leadership team again. We selected people, you know, not by title. But by, like, if you run a function in the agency, you’re on the team, like that’s how we made the decision. So it was very clear and specific.

We got that group together, we got super transparent. We shared everything about the business. All the numbers. So no more like close to the vest ownership. If these guys are going to lead, like they need to know stuff and they need all the information so that they can also learn how to become leaders too.

So we started sharing that we met weekly every Monday, same agenda for 90 minutes and we just, we got into a cadence. And thankfully we did because, you know, we all know like what happened in March, you know?

So we had made about six months, five months worth of momentum together as a team when, uh, when COVID hit and sort of through everything… Um, hit the brakes on everything. And so we had to respond to that.

Jason: [00:13:05] You said you meet once a week on Mondays for 90 minutes and the same structure. And what was that structure of that meeting?

Bob: [00:13:12] The structure was, it was actually, are you familiar with a organization called EOS?

Jason: [00:13:18] Yep. There’s lots of mastermind members and I’ve had Gino on, on the show a number of times.

Bob: [00:13:24] Yeah. We adopted that, that framework in the beginning, just because we needed a consistent framework. And that seemed to be, it seemed to make a lot of sense. It was pretty straightforward and simple.

And so it’s you come in and you talk about like, what are the key? You know, you have a scorecard and so our scorecard is new business leads and prospects. It’s how are we doing on our financial forecast today? You know, month and quarter, how are we doing? Um, we measure our, we call like remarkable creative briefs and opportunities, like of all the work in the shop how many of those have the potential to be really remarkable?

And then we, um, there’s some, some accounting metrics that we measure. And so we sort of quickly hit those. We talk about any employees, uh, or client issues that are going on. And then we devote about an hour of it to like issue, discussion and resolution.

And so some weeks there’s a handful of stuff that you have to move through some weeks. There’s one thing. But the whole point is to use that brainpower in a really concentrated focused way to, to keep us moving in the right direction.

Jason: [00:14:32] I love it. I love how, you know, and thanks for going over some of the KPIs or I guess what they call rocks or, or, um, I don’t know what they call it. But I get the gist of it because there’s a lot of people that don’t really know what to measure and they just go into a meeting. Hey, how’s it going? And, uh, really kind of it.

I’s like none of them, what’s the agenda that you have for the week and let’s, let’s rock and roll. So…

Bob: [00:14:59] We went from having no sort of across-the-board KPIs to implementing way too many.

Jason: [00:15:07] Yeah, yeah.

Bob: [00:15:10] To getting it down to like now there’s like five, that really matter. You know what I mean? Like, and if you get enough insight from those five to, to hit like 90% of the business. So we’re, we’re learning as we go, like, it gets you really hands-on. But now we’ve especially with COVID like, I think when she had the right team and the right sort of flow… I think letting go is actually been like a key and helping us grow and scale.

You were talking about that a few minutes ago.

Jason: [00:15:38] Yeah. It’s very challenging. We had our digital agency experience at my house in Colorado, a couple, uh, two weeks ago. And a lot of the agencies here, multimillion, they have a hard time letting go on stuff.

I’m like, you just got to trust your team! Like, it’s kinda like your baby, like let the baby fall and then they’ll learn to walk. If you’re going to be the crutch and you’re always going to catch them, well, expect to catch them for the rest of your life.

Bob: [00:16:09] It’s true. You know, a lot of people, and I think a lot of agency owners, you know, you start an agency because you were really good in another agency or like maybe you were the fixer.

And you know how to fix it and you know how to move on, but that only gets you so far, right? You can’t be the fixer, like you have to, to your point, like you got to like help him walk. You got to coach them, not do. You got to direct, not fix. And so that’s, that’s been a real, it seems really subtle and it seems really obvious, but it’s not so easy.

Um, but it’s been a real game-changer, like you said.

Jason: [00:16:43] Yeah. And when it happens too you get depressed, cause then they’re doing the decisions and doing all the stuff without you, they don’t need you anymore. And then you’re like, what do I do? And you’re like, well now you’re the CEO, dummy. This is your new role. And this is what you’re doing.

Bob: [00:16:57] Yeah, figure out what’s next.

Jason: [00:17:00] Yeah, exactly. So I went through that and I always make fun of my mastermind members when they go through that. I’m like, hey, dummy, this is what you wanted now. Let’s, let’s do it this way. Life will be better.

Bob: [00:17:15] It is, you know, I love it when people bring stuff that I would’ve never done or couldn’t have done.

My whole goal is I want Truth to be something that I couldn’t make. I want it to outgrow me personally. And I, like, I think that’s when you’re really into some exciting, like durable stuff as a business. So it’s fun when that happens. It is intimidating though, sometimes.

Jason: [00:17:39] Oh yeah. Well, Bob, this has all been amazing. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Bob: [00:17:45] I think agency owners like… You put out a LinkedIn post the other day about you made a game out of it, but like, there was like…

Jason: [00:17:53] Yeah. Never have I ever?

Bob: [00:17:56] Yeah, yeah, yeah. And like, I’ve done all that. Every one of them I’ve done…

Jason: [00:18:00] Multiple times.

Bob: [00:18:02] Right. Habitually, right? I think like a key to happiness as an agency owner and the growth is like just, you know the answer. You know the answer is not to chase that stupid thing. You know the answer, you know what I mean? But the industry wants you to do that. Like there’s so much crazy industry inertia out there. I think follow your gut.

You know, I just, I think have the courage to follow your gut because you’re going to be way happier. You’re going to make room for the stuff that you really want to be doing instead of falling into those old traps. And you’re going to wind up differentiating your agency as results. So your post got me really thinking about that. And I think that’s helpful for it’s been helpful for me.

Jason: [00:18:48] Goog. Well, that’s what it was designed for. What’s the agency website URL people can go and check out the agency?

Bob: [00:18:55] Sure it’s truthcollective.com. All one word is until the truth. It’s not like some weird UFO tracking organization. It’s not some church, you know, we, we’d get all kinds of crazy stuff, but truthcollective.com and we’re all over social.

Jason: [00:19:13] Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Bob, for coming on the show, we really enjoyed it.

If you guys liked that episode, make sure you like subscribe, tell a friend, tell a fellow agency owner that you’ll help them out because look, we all know we’re struggling a lot of the times they will help out.

And if you want to be around amazing agency owners on a consistent basis and really what they’re doing in order for you to scale faster. And you know, sometimes it’s a shrink session. Sometimes it’s a fun session. Sometimes it’s like, oh my God, this is the best strategy I’ve ever heard. I’d like for all of you to go to digitalagencyelite.com and check out the mastermind. See if it’s right for you. If you feel it is, apply. We’ll have a conversation and we’ll go from there.

And, uh, so go to digitalagencyelite.com. And until next time have a Swenk day.

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