Building a Relationship With Your Dot-com Client

As marketers, change is something we’re used to. Most of us, in fact, thrive on it. But as i-marketers, some of us may have underestimated the degree to which one big part of our lives was going to change: our working relationships with clients. Our new clients, that is: the dot-coms.

Dot-com clients bring to the table a whole new set of assumptions, concerns and ways of measuring success. Dot-com clients operate at Internet speed. Their energy is blinding. And between an agency and a dot-com client, there may not be a history of shared experiences – so key concepts like relationship marketing, loyalty and even branding may need to be revisited.

Here are a few tips on ways to build good relationships with dot-com clients:

Treat “keep in touch” with new respect. Working with a dot-com company is like shooting at the proverbial moving target. Especially since the product you’re marketing for it is often founded on the functionality or content of the company’s Web site – and sites can change overnight. For instance, it’s not uncommon for a dot-com firm to find that its competitors have posted parity offers or prices. So how would it parry? By adjusting offers, features or prices in real time.

An agency doing work for a dot-com company might find itself promoting a certain feature of a site or a particular product – only to discover, by dialing up the site, that the product or feature is gone. Or re-priced. Or re-prioritized. That’s why it’s critical to keep in touch with dot-com clients – communicating, collaborating and sharing knowledge every day.

Document scrupulously. Collaboration between agency and dot-com clients is fast-paced and often a lot of fun. But when you add the element of time – often less than the usual amount of time to turn projects around – there can be miscommunication and lost information. So it’s important to document carefully and check back, often, on what was actually agreed to.

In addition, dot-com clients may be organized less hierarchically than traditional clients are. So if you were used to getting the final word from, say, the advertising director when working with a traditional client, at a dot-com, you may be taking direction from five or six department heads or specialists who have decidedly different objectives. This also makes documentation, especially the documentation of agreed-upon next steps, essential.

Don’t skip steps. In the dot-com world, where being “in market” quickly to promote a site or product offering is often required, there can be a greater emphasis on “getting it done” than “getting it done right.” That means agencies have to deliver what’s needed in the short term.

But in the long term, they also need to be standard-bearers, reminding dot-com clients the crucialness of important steps: research; competitive benchmarking; site design that promotes ease of navigation and supports the relationship with the customer; and analysis of customer feedback.

Emphasize loyalty. When promoting a dot-com site, many agencies pursue a two-pronged strategy: one for early adopters who are comfortable on the Web and can be reached through online promotions and another for people who are more comfortable with traditional media – be it radio, direct mail or television.

No matter where or to whom you promote, keep your messaging customer-focused and consistent across all media. When you encourage a client to pay attention to what customers are saying, or how they are “voting” through repeat visits to the site, or the information they are providing through online questionnaires, you are making it possible for them to have a meaningful dialogue with their customers. Which helps your client secure and maintain loyalty – even among notoriously disloyal dot-com customers.

Encourage branding. Perhaps the greatest challenge of working with a dot-com is the importance of developing a sound brand message – balanced against the lack of time in which to develop it. As many of the dot-coms that advertised unsuccessfully on Super Bowl Sunday discovered, true market differentiation begins with a sound brand message.

In a marketplace of parity prices, products and services, it’s critical to stand for something and promote the best things you stand for. For this reason, you owe it to your dot-com client to set aside time – to make time – for creating that critical brand message.

Work together on trust. If trust between ad agency and client doesn’t strike you as a breakthrough idea, well, it’s not. But trust, in my opinion, could be the big, make-it-or-break-it element when ad agencies work with dot-coms. That’s because the kind of quick turnaround and collaboration that is essential in the dot-com world is possible only when there is genuine trust and respect for each other’s ideas and opinions.

When the relationship between an agency and dot-com client really click, you’re thinking similar thoughts and living in the same world. In the end, it’s the kind of collaboration that makes great marketing possible and allows your dot-com client to build something of value between it and its customers. That’s the ultimate goal.

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