Search consultants play an important role in the marketing services agency industry. They may only represent about 25% of agency searches, but the biggest reviews are typically managed by them. They are an important gatekeeper in the agency selection process for many significant opportunities.
Given how critical their role is, we’re often asked how agencies can work more effectively with search consultants. The key is recognizing we’re a channel, and you need a search consultant channel management strategy to succeed. That is where the four Rs come in: Readiness, Radar, Relationships and Reviews.
The search consultant’s job is not to market your agency or to dress you up for success.
In most cases, the search consultant works for the client and is their agent—we’re representing the absolute best interests of the client. Our job is to help narrow the field of thousands of agencies to the small group best suited to help the client succeed based on specific needs.
What does that mean for agencies? Be ready. Readiness means that the agency:
Is well positioned. What is your agency’s frame of reference—what kind of agency are you? What makes you special and why should we believe it? What’s it like to work with you?
Has a prospect-friendly website. We should be able to readily find all critical information: The frame of reference is on the homepage, along with the agency’s positioning. The capabilities are clear and thorough. The current and past client experience is highlighted. The case studies cover the important bases, the bios are helpful, and the key data is covered.
Has done their homework. We are similar and yet very different at the same time. Some consultants handle mostly small regional searches, while others focus mostly on large national reviews. There are only about 25 U.S.-centric search consultants, and fewer than 10 of us do most of the searches.
What kinds of clients does the search consultant serve in scale, industry or agency type? Do they require or encourage you to pay to be included in their database? Do they charge you to be in a review? Doing your research in advance of outreach will prepare you well for interactions you end up having, knowing what you should and shouldn’t do, and you’ll make a better first impression.
Once you’re ready, you need to get on the search consultant’s radar. Clients don’t follow the agency industry as closely as agency execs, but we do. We stay current because it’s our job.
The best way to get on search consultants’ radar is to be unavoidable. Here’s how:
Work that gets noticed. Awards are important because clients don’t pay attention to the agency industry until they have to—and then they start searching. You need to be findable. Awards help increase the odds that you are found. They also provide the agency with additional third-party credibility for your website and proposals.
Lists. Most niches in agency services have lists, like “best” or “top” agencies in a field or city. Do not pay for what are essentially fake pay-for-play lists; most clients are too smart for that.
Press coverage. While clients are typically not routinely reading the “trades,” the consultants are. Coverage in the trades is very important. It helps your findability, helps build your reputation and can help introduce agencies to consultants.
Thought leadership content. Most agency content we see is not terribly helpful and doesn’t really advance an agency’s reputation. However, a truly helpful content program that highlights your deep expertise can help an agency stand out.
How do you create a lasting personal relationship? Through communication and trust. These are the same elements of a strong search consultant relationship.
Search consultants are people—busy people. Treat us with the same respect you expect from others, and you’ll do well. In essence:
Respect our time. Share real news with us—big awards, big new clients, key hires—and do it efficiently.
Tailor communications to the consultant. We all are a bit different. Share your updates in the manner the consultant desires.
Be responsive. Answer our information requests thoroughly and quickly; if we are asking questions, we are usually on the clock. A delay in responding may cost you an opportunity.
Be honest and straightforward. Don’t oversell. Be clear about what you’re really good at as opposed to what you offer as a supplementary service.
You’ve diligently prepared yourself, become unavoidable and started to create relationships with some search consultants. And now your agency has made it to a consultant-led review! This is where the hard work really starts.
Go all-in. These opportunities are few and far between for many agencies, so make the most of it.
Follow the rules. Do not go around the consultant. Do not go outside the rules without permission. This is important because the client has hired the consultant to manage the process, and they expect us to do just that. And if you break the rules, the odds are not good that you’ll get asked to participate in another review.
Be gracious. Only one agency will win the review. Losing a review is a tough pill to swallow after putting in so much effort! But be gracious in defeat. Consultants don’t like to have to deliver the bad news, and agencies that handle the bad news with grace generally get another opportunity. Agencies that argue with the outcome or are less than gracious simply leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.